Erik’s Brain

The reward of a thing well done...

Lies That Experts Tell Us

Avedon Works

I was just listening to this KQED Forum broadcast from July 24, 2009 about Richard Avedon’s exhibit at the SF MOMA. I had to turn it off after eight minutes. The “expert” they are interviewing twice said things along the line of “Avedon felt that this portrait showed the real Marilyn Monroe” or “the real Duke and Duchess of Windsor.”

Bull. Shit.

Avedon knew better than anyone that you can’t capture someone’s essence in a photograph.

Case in point times three:

“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”

“My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.”

“Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is… the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own.”

This expert also pointed out that he didn’t take a very large number of photographs because he worked with a very large camera in a studio. That’s partially true. He’s certainly known for some of this portraits that were shot with an 8"x10" camera. But the two photographs she was talking about in those eight minutes were both shot with a Rolleiflex. Not everything he shot was carefully composed and frozen in front of his view camera.

But famed photographer Richard Avedon had a different style. Leibovitz observed that Avedon “seduced his subjects with conversation. He had a Rolleiflex that he would look down at and then up from. It was never in front of his face” but next to him while he talked.

It always bothers me when I hear or read things from experts that I know are untrue. Because that means it’s entirely possible that I learned things incorrectly the first time and the new story I’m hearing is actually the accurate one.

But in this case I’m right.