It was straightforward to envy — even hate — Richard Avedon.
The legendary photographer, who died in 2004, traveled around the globe capturing probably the most fabulous fashions, probably the most magnificent fashions, probably the most scintillating stars. He hobnobbed with Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Hutton. His creative friends — shutterbugs like Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander — in addition to critics scoffed or seethed at his lavishness, his four-story townhouse, fancy museum exhibits, and industrial advert work. It didn’t assist that he might be self-aggrandizing, along with his costly, overstuffed espresso desk books and blown-up, larger-than-life prints.
Yet, beneath all that glitter and gloss, Avedon’s private life was a lot messier and extra-human.
“He suffered,” stated Philip Gefter, who has written the brand new biography of Avedon, “What Becomes a Legend Most” (HarperCollins).
According to Gefter’s guide, Avedon was consistently struggling. He agonized over his Jewishness, the collapse of his two marriages, and his confused sexuality, together with a younger romance with a cousin.
“He spent his adult life in therapy and psychoanalysis — not for no reason,” Gefter informed The Post. “Growing up, he endured the prejudice of anti-Semitism. He endured a kind of homophobia; even though he had homosexual feelings, they were unwanted.” Plus, most of the ladies round him — his aunt, his sister, his second spouse, Evelyn, and his expensive pal, fellow photographer Diane Arbus, all suffered from some form of psychological sickness.
“One of his qualities was that he was able to not only endure [all] that but prevail in terms of living a very constructive life anyway,” stated Gefter. That high quality additionally allowed him to create psychologically astute, clear-eyed, and radical portraits of practically every sort of particular person in America within the second half of the 20th century, not simply celebs however battle mongers, civil rights leaders, ranchers, and beekeepers.
“I felt like Avedon didn’t get his due in his lifetime. He was often dismissed as a fashion photographer, and then as a celebrity photographer, and I have always thought that he was more consequential than that,” Gefter stated. “And I wanted to make that case.”
Richard Avedon was born in 1923 in Manhattan, the oldest of two youngsters. His father, Jacob (Jack) Israel Avedon, was an immigrant from present-day Belarus who ran a profitable gown store. His mom, Anna, was a free spirit from a rich household who inspired Dick’s love of the humanities.
Yet Avedon’s childhood was hardly idyllic. Jack misplaced his enterprise within the Great Depression and was unduly harsh on younger Dick (as everybody would name Avedon), who was delicate and, alarmingly to Jack, bored with sports activities. Dick’s beloved youthful sister, the gorgeous, enigmatic, surprisingly silent Louise, was recognized with schizophrenia as a teen. Dick was bullied as a child for being a “sissy,” and obtained a nostril job when he was 17 to look much less Jewish. Jack, who wished his son to slot in and assimilate any means he may, paid for it.
Dick took solace in his first cousin, Margie, a fellow misfit whose mom (Anna’s sister) was out and in of psychiatric establishments. Fun, brash and impulsive, Margie would coax Dick out of his shell — getting him to sneak into Broadway exhibits along with her, for example. The two, in line with a number of members of the family, additionally had a romantic relationship.
“I was deeply in love with Margie from the age of 4 until I was 18,” Avedon would inform certainly one of his collaborators, editor Nicole Wozniak when he was in his 60s. “Our feelings for each other were so intense, so forbidden, so conspiratorial.”
Avedon obtained his first digicam, a Box Brownie, at age 9 after which labored at a photography studio in high school. His first photos have been of Louise and Margie, who would prepare elaborate schemes for Dick too, involving crashing funerals and stunning strangers on the road.
When he failed his senior yr at DeWitt Clinton HS in The Bronx, Avedon signed up for the Merchant Marine, the place he lucked right into a place as a photographer on the maritime service coaching station at Sheepshead Bay. Not solely did he take the ID images of each new arrival, he additionally provided photojournalism for the group’s two magazines.
Avedon nonetheless felt like an outsider — and never simply because he was probably the one seaman scouring Harper’s Bazaar as an alternative of cheesecake pin-ups in his bunk. He by some means at all times obtained caught with the worst chores: scrubbing bogs and swabbing flooring. One day somebody drew a swastika on the wall of his mattress in black crayon.
“From then on, throughout his tour of duty, he proceeded with a persistent undercurrent of dread,” writes Gefter.
But one good factor got here out of it: Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary artwork director of Harper’s Bazaar, though Avedon’s Merchant Marine images confirmed promise. In 1947, the largely unknown Avedon was chosen to shoot Christian Dior’s groundbreaking New Look assortment in Paris.
It was unbelievably glamorous: Avedon arrived in Paris along with his model-muse-wife Doe, and the 2 popped a bottle of champagne within the taxi, watching the City of Lights flash by them. By day, Avedon would Doe and the more-seasoned Renée Breton in Dior’s luxurious furs and hourglass-shaped robes within the streets. By night time, the pair would sip bubbly in nightclubs and cabarets.
He spent his grownup life in remedy and psychoanalysis — not for no motive.
– Author Philip Gefter on Richard Avedon
It was dazzling, he stated: “the convergence of the happiness of being , being in love with the most beautiful girl, being sent to Paris, buying a bottle of champagne at the airport, driving in Paris in a cab whose roof was open.”
The photos brought about a sensation. Instead of the staid studio images of fashions posing like mannequins, Avedon shot his muses in movement — leaping, twirling, preening within the streets of Paris. Soon, Avedon was not solely probably the most sought-after trend photographer on the planet, however a profitable portrait and industrial photographer as nicely.
His topics included stars like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, who had stayed up previous midnight partying with Tony Bennett the night time earlier than her shoot, for Blackglama Furs, after which proceeded to spend $500 on Carven fragrance on the lodge drugstore, which the fur firm needed to pay for. He shot writers together with Truman Capote and pop sensations reminiscent of Ringo Starr, who challenged Avedon to a whiskey-drinking contest; after passing out, the Beatle needed to be smuggled by means of the roof and out a secret door in an adjoining constructing to keep away from the paparazzi ready outdoors.
Yet privately, Avedon’s life was consistently unraveling. Doe — whom he had tried laborious to show right into a supermodel — wished to be an actress and ran off with a fellow thespian she met in a summertime inventory manufacturing. Avedon remarried, however, his second spouse, Evelyn Franklin, suffered from despair and erratic habits, accusing the photographer of sleeping with Lee Radziwill and placing out cigarettes within the palm of her hand when she didn’t get the fixed consideration she craved. Once, Franklin greeted Leonard and Felicia Bernstein, who had come over for dinner, in her nightgown, along with her hair uncombed and her face undone.
“It weighed on [Avedon] heavily,” Gefter stated of Franklin’s psychological sickness. Though the couple — who had one son, John — separated in 1972, they by no means divorced and Avedon would assist her all through the remainder of her life.
In 1968, Avedon’s adored sister Louise died at age 42, a pair weeks after he had visited her within the psychiatric hospital the place she had lived for greater than 15 years. By the top, she needed to be spoon-fed and spoke in nothing, however “a string of random obscenities.” Avedon felt racked with guilt. “I don’t think I ever really wanted to help her,” he would say in a later interview. “I had my hands full trying to help myself.”
Then there was Avedon’s sexuality. He had been discharged from the Merchant Marine to hunt “psychiatric help” and, as Gefter writes, “broach the inconvenient matter of his homosexuality.” In the 1950s, he started seeing a brand new analyst, Edmund Bergler, who was identified within the 1950s as an “expert” on homosexuality and who claimed that it was a “condition” that might be cured.
Even as his mates like Leonard Bernstein started to publicly exit with males within the 1970s and ’80s, Avedon stored any affairs secret, although his enterprise associate, in an explosive tell-all revealed in 2017, alleged he had quite a few clandestine encounters and even a dalliance with movie director Mike Nichols.
“He made a choice to marry and live a more conventional life, so in effect, so he could have his career,” stated Gefter. The one regular same-sex relationship he had — with a lawyer within the 1980s — was by no means publicly acknowledged. “I don’t even know if Avedon’s son knew [about it],” Gefter stated.
Despite his ache, Avedon soldiered on. Part of it, Gefter admitted, was a response to his judgemental, exacting father. “I think his ambition and his sense of competition drove him to prove to his father that not only could he survive in the world, but he could become fabulously successful and enormously rich,” he stated.
His struggles allowed him the empathy to assist teenage ingenues, jaded celebrities, and regular on regular basis folks let down their guard in posing for images.
“I think he saw things very directly, very clearly,” stated Gefter, referring to Avedon’s most popular portraiture type: simply the topic towards a white background. “You’re not getting lost in all the other things surrounding the person, but just seeing that person.”