Sunday, January 17, 2010

At the DIA

"Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000" was the wonderful exhibit we saw today at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Lucky us! It was the last day. We arrived before noon, and there was no line -- but as we were leaving, the line went all the way through the roped-in waiting area and out of sight.

No photography was allowed inside the exhibit, but I've found a few of my favorites from the show. The choice of photographs was extensive and remarkable. Avedon's photographic techniques were fascinating. Almost all were black and white photos. In many of them, he seemed to like the black and the white, avoiding shades of gray as much as possible. A model wearing a black dress (or apparently black) would be shown on a set of steps washed out to almost white. A model in a white dress would be photographed among a group of people in tuxedos and indistinct black dresses. One of the most famous: a model in a black and white dress leaning on a circus elephant.

Avedon was incredibly creative in using a model as an actress so that a fashion photograph would also tell a story. The elephant photo is definitely one of these, as is a photo of a very high-style model sitting next to an afghan hound that seems to take on her facial expression.

Lighting played a huge role in the way he created these remarkable images. One memorable one showed a woman in a hat with a sort of burst of net, lit from both the side and from behind so that she was outlined and light came through the net. Even in the studio portraits with plain gray backgrounds, he used lighting with great skill and imagination.

Although these fashion photos undoubtedly do their job in emphasizing the gowns, coats, hats, or hairstyles, the photographic techniques make them works of art independent of this goal.

Not to mention the way he used Paris backgrounds and glamorous locations to create his distinctive atmosphere.


Jens Zorn said...

There is an interesting contrast between Avedon's pure fashion work and his later book "In the American West" where farmers and ordinary workers are depicted in a style that seems to follow the social realism of Walker Evens, Russell Lee and others of the FSA project. But in fact these images by Avedon, gritty as they may seem, were done with the fashion photographer approach: The photograph of a shirtless beekeeper covered with bees, one of the most dramatic in the book, was done by flying the model from North Carolina to California where the weather was still warm enough to have bees in motion. Comparable prep work was done for other images. It seems to me that Avedon's "American West" has violated the trust that we once had in the norms of social realism.

Jeanie said...

One of my favorite movie musicals is "Funny Face," for which he was the "inspiration" and did much of the still shooting. I love how he uses the model as actress to tell the story. His work has always been among my favorite in photography. Sounds like you went to that exhibit at just the right time! I always seem to end up in the line!