Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Richard Avedon: Nureyev's Foot and the 20th Century




A few weeks ago, I was looking through a website when I came upon a truly amazing photograph. It was titled, "Nureyev's Foot." I was struck how beautifully it was lighted and cropped. That foot seemed to say everything about the control, power and strength required of such a famous ballet dancer as Rudolf Nureyev. I had to know who had taken the photo.

After some digging through the internet, I found the photographer. It turned out to be Richard Avedon and I thought, "but, of course."


Avedon (1923-2004) has been described as the premiere photographer of style and beauty for the second half of the 20th century. Yet, a career that started at age 12 using a Brownie Box camera and later by taking Merchant Marines' photographs for I.D. cards hardly seems like the basis for such an outstanding career. 

However, with his passion for photography, he evolved a style that immediately identified a picture as an "Avedon." While Avedon was known for his fashion magazine work, his real love was portraiture. 

He preferred not to use props or soft lights, but to capture the inner worlds of his subjects. He would ask probing questions and find the vulnerable and interior for his portraits.

Beyond the fashion and portraiture, Avedon spent his time taking photos that chronicle images of the times. He even created a book titled, "In the American West." It was full of the images of the everyday lives of people.

In 1974, Avedon, who was only 51, had to limit his activities due to heart inflammation. Yet, he would continue to work until age 81. It was while on assignment for The New Yorker, Avedon suffered a stroke and died. He left a legacy of the most iconic representations of famous figures of the 20th century - including Nureyev's foot. Do you recognize any of these photos?


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