Body of evidence

The archetypal fashion photographer who revelled in controlled chaos. Jane Richards puzzles over the enigma that is Richard Avedon

two years ago, at the age of 68, the American photographer Richard Avedon got round to publishing his autobiography. Here, it was thought, would be the chance to glimpse an insight into the mind of the "Peter Pan" photographer (he looks half his age) whofamously eschews public appearances. No such luck. With a hefty £75 tome, Avedon was sticking firmly to what he does best: a life story told in photographs. It was a typically stylish move from the man credited with pioneering two of photography's most innovative and extreme styles - the stark, close-up portrait against a plain white backcloth and the elaborately staged, action-packed fashion shoot. But, for those who felt short-changed by his autobiography, more is revealed in Richard Avedon: Evidence 1944-1994, a new book of photographs with essays by American photography curator Jane Livingstone and Adam Gopnik, art critic of The New Yorker (where Avedon is the sole staff photographer). The launch of the book is accompanied by a National Portrait Gallery exhibition which claims to be a complete survey of Avedon's 50-year career. As Gopnik points out, it is a full half-century since Avedon began to publish photographs in magazines, starting with Harpers' Bazaar. In what has undoubtedly been a colourful career, he has published six books, including Observations in 1959 - photographs of celebrities; Nothing Personal in 1964 - images of America and the civil rights movement in the early Sixties; Portraits in 1976 - a collection of his severe, white back-drop portraits (mainly of metropolitan intellectuals); and In the American West(1985), setting ordinary workers against the familiar white backdrops. He has been involved in endless advertising campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein and Christian Dior, visited war-torn Vietnam and was famously portrayed by Fred Astaire in the 1957 film Funny Face, as the archetypal fashion photographer. His imagery is a heady combination of reverence and irreverence. He idolised the world of fashion: when he arrived at Harpers' Bazaar in the early Forties - to work for the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeeland and art director Alexey Brodovitch - he felt secure for the first time in his life (born in 1923 in New York of Russian immigrants, he had until then lacked confidence and direction). Yet he sent the industry he revered sky-high, from po-faced, drawing-room elegance to perfectly orchestrated chaos. He described how Henri Cartier-Bresson - his God - "permitted no cropping of the pictures, no manipulation" and then how "I went right in and cropped. I printed through gauze and tissue paper. I altered everything" - albeit with studious control. No incident, he has said, is ever accidental. Of the tantalisingly fleeting insights into Avedon's psychology, pinpointed by Adam Gopnik in Evidence, the most poignant is his infatuation with his sister. In an interview with the French magazine Egoiste in 1985, Avedon said, "Louise's beauty was the event of our family and the destruction of her life." She died at the age of 42 in a mental institution. Misgivings about the isolating nature of beauty have dominated his work; his favourite models - Suzy Parker, Dorian Leigh and Dovima - bear striking resemblances to his dead sister. In what is justifiably his most celebrated fashion image, Dovima and the Elephants (in which the model appears to restrain the massive beasts), Avedon brings together his favourite themes - beauty, power and illusion: the illusion of power and the impossibly heady thoughts planted in the minds of beautiful women by their admirers. Then there are the classic portraits. A host of celebrity portraits on the slab, as it were grotesque parodies of themselves - President Eisenhower, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The big question is how he got so many public figures to lay themselves open to his ruthless scrutiny. Of a particularly gruelling photograph of Dorothy Parker, he said, "I was accused of being cruel and cold, of portraying Dorothy Parker as an alcoholic - which she was." Youcan't tell it more clearly than that.

Richard Avedon: Evidence 1944-1994, National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (071-306 0055) from 23 March to 11 June. `Evidence 1944-1994 Richard Avedon' - published by Jonathan Cape/NPG, cloth £50, paper £30

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee