This was the email I received this morning from a remarkable women’s wear designer I’m friends with:
Ahhh, well, since you asked.
It’s funny you ask, b/c the author Haven Kimmel and I recently had a e-mail conversation that touched on, amongst many things, Avedon, specifically his portrait of Ezra Pound.
Avedon was a great photographer who “got it,” who worked day in and out, and who was able to doing something authentic. I suppose one could offer that any sort of originality is genius in a way, which I wouldn’t necessarily debate, but I see that great thing in a body of work as more as a confluence of part man and part fate/histories momentum part…you get the idea; I see it was something much more complex than one’s inspirations and capabilities. Regardless, I’ll leave that up to you, not the point anyway, but the key is Avedon did something original in his career, singular and completely authentic. Yes, he was inspired by Sander and others, and some argue by his own history as a military photographer, but still he came to his own conclusion. In the spirit of Ginsberg speaking to Whitman beyond the grave, you could say Sander fell the tree and Avedon carved it. At his apogee, and I believe Avedon’s crowning moment ,his pique his quintessence, was the American West series, he made one of the great photographic moves, and it stands as such still. Something people will mimic and mimic but something that there will only ever be one of. He did it first and did it best.
Foremost, and he said it more eloquently if you dig in his essays and quotes, Avedon’s pictures are certainly about himself, or about his idea. Idea, I think, is the key term here, since it’s what Avedon reduced things too: a philosophy. He along with the rest of his generation was influenced a great deal by Beckett and the sensibilities and ideas of Existentialism from that generation, that white void that Molloy limps through became Avedon’s white seamless. Yet, don’t let the starkness of this mislead you; I do believe Avedon was an optimistic, a humanist, b/c when I look at the American West series, I see royalty. Just like Arbus made the freaks into kings and queens, Avedon made the common people something that transcended. Avedon would have had Louis Vuitton luggage and been wearing loafers suited for the UWS while shooting that work, and his time with the subject was, I’d gather, fleeting – it was not his world at all and he didn’t pretend it to be - but all the same he was human and they were human and I see in his work a general love for that ubiquitous suffering and struggle that affronts us all despite our best efforts, that “nakedness of man faced with the absurd” to go to Camus.
On top of this, more generally to discuss his commercial and editorial (non-fine-art) work, he was technically outstanding, not tricky or fancy or conceptual, but more like the Rolls Royce of technique, beautiful and classic and smart. Using things as simple as notan, to reference Mr. Cardwell, to draw you in and control composition and rythm. And in the portraits he did editorially he knew the balance between that aesthetic in technique and balancing that with a ruthless display and adjustmentoft the sitters persona (in the Jungian sense). I imagine Avedon was kind, liked and very smart, but I also suspect that when he photographed his great portraits he was at war with his sitters, b/c the moments seem both terrifying and sublime…which is, as Haven had pointed out to me, the same thing according to Kant.
Finally, it’d be a mistake to underestimate the commerce involved with the photography, and Avedon knew it. Luckily for Avedon, the look he explored personally also turned out to be very very effective and easy to translate to the commercial realm. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, it’s a rarity as far as I’ve seen.
Anyway…I’m rambling. I admire his work obviously. I don’t deify him or think he didn’t take mediocre photos too. And there’s a lot he didn’t do. But what he did do right, he did tremendously.
Hope that helps.
photo: from Avedon at Work in the American West. ©Laura Wilson.
And I wasn’t joking about the loafers, probably ferragamos, and the vintage Louis Vuitton Luggage (↓) either.
photo: from Avedon at Work in the American West. ©Laura Wilson.
Damn fancy, Dick!
Vuitton could inspire a campaign around that photo.
Sneak peak at Covet Spring 09.
And while on the topic, I was recently emailed this picture of, Tara St. James, the creative director of Covet and I at an opening. Tara said, “we look scared!” I said, “no, just very sober.”
Children’s book author, Katie Van Camp.
Painter, Alex Steckly, who you’ll be able to catch at the Dietch Gallery in Art Basil Miami come December.
While away for work over the last few weeks I crashed with my close friend, Benjamin, on his couch to be precise, b/c there’s hotel rooms in life and there’s friends in life – and I choose the later. For work Benjamin is a web director/strategist (i.e. he uses the internet to make people $). While staying with him, he and I worked together on his new resume/portfolio. I’m mentioning this for two reasons: first, simply to help get the word out that he’s on the professional market, so to speak; secondly, and moreover, I bring it up b/c of the strong, dare I say ingenious, use of photography on his site: the utilization of mainstream-culture’s web disseminated imagery (i.e. our generation’s visual idioms) as the backdrop for his portfolio is progressive. Not progressive like walking to work, not progressive in a clever manner, but progressive in a critical and thoughtful manner that at at the same time gets in your face as it sneaks up behind you. Furthermore, it’s not often to see a site that’s not photography related at all yet hinges on the very medium. Benjamin is resituating these images, rewriting them into completely different texts than they were initially intended, and in doing so he speaks much louder and clearer than any amount of copy could.
The people who get it, are really going to get it, and in doing so are going to get the author in a big way.
Smart work, friend.
Check it, here.
Lyn Devon, the designer, photographed in her apartment:
Alex just busted his leg in two and needed some metal put into it b/c he drove his 1980-storm-trooper-scooter into a car or some such David vs Goliath tale. What I imagine is that all the while his mind was in outer space dreaming another one of his new paintings, this really radical new work.
I’m once again impressed by this young artist. This kind of technical discipline isn’t something an artist usually develops until they’re approaching they’re 30s. Sized around 40×90″ and corner to corner layered with subtlety, it’s needless to say the web doesn’t do these paintings justice.
This work following his last circle/moon series has taken on a kind of neo-formalism, and I think once Alex takes this and pushes underlying ideas+intent as far as the form the moon and outer space will be the limit for him.
A first edit is a difficult thing to do, approached chock-full of biases and nerves and without any distance from original intentions…so, well, possibilities are often missed. I’d like to say I casually return to contact sheets again after a few months, after a few years, to find what I’d missed, but honestly by then I’m tired of it and done with it and on to more pressing matters, namely, the next piece of film to be exposed.
I recalled this image from the portrait of Benjamin, but didn’t remember noting it, or even scanning it, but last night while backing up files, I saw it and its implicit complications suddenly became interesting. And the only reason I even had a scan of it was b/c Benjamin had seen the contacts and specifically requested it…I’d never have bothered.
Doing an edit is a series of conflicts, practical and personal and everything between. Despite frowning upon showing my contacts to anyone, I believe the strongest edits are those I’ve done alongside other people, be it a photo ed, my team or just people I trust.
Julian Tulip is a singer+song writer. He’s also brilliant, crazy, and a firm believer in conspiracies.
While lighting this portrait Benjamin watched me slump focused over a freshly pulled Polaroid.
You don’t like it, he asked.
It’s not enough, I responded staring at the Polaroid…I mean it’s not human enough.
Well, he said, I’d just like this picture to show how tired I am, how exhausted the last few years have left me.
Exactly, I said.
Two more Polaroids and then we shot these,
My new portfolio site has just been turned on, launched, gone hot, whatever the kids are saying today.
Take a gander at www.graememitchell.com.
A few things I wish to note:
First, once again, the one-man-web-think-tank, Benjamin Diggles takes all the credit for putting this together, design and code. See his portfolio here, his music here, his blog here, and the company he works for here – (I’m always in awe at how many projects Benjamin is working on at any given moment). Benjamin and I have known each other since we were 9, and as far as I’m concerned we’re brothers, so I’m proud that he’s the one working on this, means a lot to me.
Second, I want to thank all the photo editors, art buyers, agents, and so on and so forth that took the time to give constructive criticism regarding my previous site. I’m not a web head, nor even know that much about it, so the opinions from those people who look at pics online all day was and is invaluable. I think it’s great when people in those positions take the time to offer unprompted ideas to improve something like presentation.
Last, as I’ve told Benjamin 85 times, I’m really excited about this site. For what it’s worth coming from someone who isn’t web oriented, I think it’s perfect for my work.
You try so hard to displace the place in order to understand it or to make it more an obtuse phenomenon than the ugly actuality it is, that it is so perfectly; you do this in an attempt to justify or excuse it philosophically. But it takes heavy amounts of drink, drugs, regression just to make it bearable let alone excusable, seeing through eyes that won’t focus b/c in this place they don’t need to focus – focus is actually discouraged. It’s the premise of a child’s ball pit in the back of drab and tired fast food restaurant in the middle of the desert; it’s this premise expanded infinitely: padded surfaces, rounded corners, a cattle pen. Just when you attempt approach at clarity, some sort of recognition or disconnection, it dissipates, the clarity that is. It’s like running in a dream: the harder you try the heavier you become in a foggy futility. And there’s not even any redeeming giddiness or hopeful moments of expression, at all.
It is void.
This will be part of an ongoing series of portraits to be shared here.
These first are a series of artist, Alex Steckly at his apartment and work space in NE Portland on a Friday morning.
And with his girlfriend, Laurel, who I realized quickly functions with him in the beautiful and classical sense as a muse.
song: “Anomaly Girl” ©Mano-Destra
This is a treat. I was clicking around on my server and found Mano-Destra’s “Anomaly Girl” mp3. Now, I’ve no idea from where it came, but that’s not the concern: what’s important is that you get it on your ipod and listen to it on the subway.
Unfortunately, he’s currently revamping his site, but I hear his new site will be up soon and it’s full of big ideas.
photo: Mano-Destra ©Graeme Mitchell, 2006