Thursday, August 20, 2009

Richard Avedon's Craggy Celebrities

Patrick Vaz, on his Financial District lunch hour, was host for a trip this afternoon to photographer Richard Avedon's career retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

People downtown seem to be starved for entertainment these days, so there were long lines for tickets, with young employees trying to sign up people for museum memberships.

I didn't expect to enjoy the exhibition as much as I did for a couple of reasons. First, celebrity photographs as a genre bore the heck out of me. Just become somebody is famous doesn't make a photograph of them interesting. Also, Avedon's work was featured frequently when he became the first Staff Photographer of "The New Yorker" after Tina Brown arrived as editor in 1992, and introduced photographs to that magazine for the first time. His style started looking more and more like repetitive schtick over the last years of his life (he died in 2004), but what this lifelong retrospective displays is just how varied his work was within a narrow palette.

The 1955 "Dovima with Elephants" will always be one of the greatest images in the history of photography for just about any reason you can name (light, texture, subtext, humor, strangeness) and the huge wall print of the 1969 "Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory, New York" is worth the price of admission. One really can never see a poster sized version of the young, naked Joe Dallesandro enough in this lifetime. For a funny, guerilla photo of the latter, entitled "politely pondering pornstar penis," check out Dead Slow's Flickrstream by clicking here.

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