Richard Avedon on darkness and light and photographic practice

a perspective

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To be an artist, to be a photographer, you have to nurture the things that most people discard. You have to keep them alive in order to tap them. It’s been important to me my whole life not to let go of any of the things that most people would throw in the ashcan. I have to be in touch with my fragility, with the man in me and the woman in me, the child in me, the grandfather in me. All these things have to be kept alive.”

I think I do photograph what I am afraid of. I think I have photographed what I am afraid of. Things that I couldn’t deal with without the camera; my father’s death, madness and when I was young women I didn’t understand. It gave me a sort of control over the situation that was legitimate because good work was being done and by photographing what I was afraid of, or what I was interested in I explored and learned and laid the ghost. It got out of my system  and onto the page.

It’s just strange to me that anyone would ever think that a work of art shouldn’t be disturbing or shouldn’t be invasive I mean that’s the property of a work of art that’s the arena of a work of art is to disturb is to make you think is to make you feel. If my work didn’t disturb from tie to time I would be a failure in my own eyes, It’s meant to disturb in a positive way.

It’s fun. The food is good the thing is silly and the people you meet; the respect that I have for the hairdressers, for the art directors, the  account executives–what they live through with their clients who don’t get what they are trying to do. It’s like a little circus of intention of hard disciplined, crafted work to sell–this is a capitalist country-to sell the products that are made that people seem to want. I don’t think I have the heart to go into the black side of myself without any respites. If I lived with the dark side of myself all the time I think that I’d be non-functional. There’s no downside to my commercial photography. I am so grateful that I have the capacity and the ability to make a living support my family […] to support my studios, support my special projects by doing advertising. The Pirelli calendar, the Versace campaign and in the old days covers for Vogue, it’s a sort of holiday.

In visual terms there’s been nothing like photography in the history of the world. There’s no vocabulary for it. The vocabulary has to do with painting. Photography literally stops something dead. It’s the death of the moment. The second a picture is taken that life is held and stopped and over, that moment is over, it’s the melancholy part of the beauty of what is a photograph. It’s endlessly mysterious to me.”

Image attribution: Richard Avedon, self-portrait, New York, ca 1963. The Richard Avedon Foundation. Words gleaned from: Richard Avedon – Darkness and Light. An American Masters Special. Thirteen/WNET 1995.