Critics’ Picks

Twiggy, Hair by Ara Gallant, Paris Studio, January 1968, black-and-white photograph, 23 3/8 x 18 5/8".


“Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946–2004”

Jeu de Paume
1 place de la Concorde
July 1–September 27

Organized by the Jeu de Paume and the Louisiana Museum in Denmark, “Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946–2004,” the first major retrospective of Avedon’s work in France, opens with Avedon’s Parisian fashion photography. Working for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Avedon glamorized the city as a vibrant backdrop against which Suzy Parker played pinball in a Lavin-Castillo gown at the Café de Beaux Arts and Elise Daniels posed in Balenciagia among street performers in the Marais.

The exhibition shifts from fashion photography to Avedon’s acclaimed celebrity and political portraiture, defined by his use of an 8 x 10 view camera on a tripod and a vivid white backdrop. “A portrait photographer depends upon another person to complete the picture,” Avedon explains in the show’s accompanying documentary footage, and his subjects appear as dynamic, expressive, otherworldly creatures. For example, Katherine Hepburn, photographed in 1955, stretches her face into a look that is part surprise and part grimace, as if at once accentuating and mocking her beauty. This portrait series includes iconic, historical figures such as Malcolm X, Dwight Eisenhower, Marilyn Monroe, and the Beatles. “You can convince people to become symbolic of themselves,” Avedon said, echoing Andy Warhol, whom he photographed on the edge of a wide-format tableau of the Factory.

Using his fashion clout to broach political subjects, Avedon also documented the civil rights movement in the 1963 series “Nothing Personal,” and in 1976 produced “The Family,” a composite portrait of the leading political and media figures in the US. The show closes with the series “In the American West,” 1979–84, wherein Avedon turned his lens on the nation’s most marginalized citizens. Subjects like wild-haired, oil-flecked Roberto Lopez, photographed in 1980, affect the viewer as much as Samuel Beckett’s clear-eyed, deeply creased face.