Yesterday at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA) a new show opened with a crowd. I don't know why I was surprised by a crowd according to logic--the show was an exhibition of the work of photographer Richard Avedon, who is a phenomenal artist--but I WAS surprised because Avedon isn't so much a "household" name like Ansel Adams or Annie Lebowitz. Still, there I was, fighting to see a photo in full frame uninterrupted, like the fight I had to see Frida Kahlo's work without two or three heads in front of it.
My introduction to Avedon was, of course, the New Yorker magazine pages, although I would be pressed to tell you what photograph hooked me. Regarding Avedon, I think it was more of a growing interest, although his work is striking enough to grab one in a single glance. I got to the point where I would look for Avedon's work and feel relief when I would find it in an issue. He had a way of making ugly notariety attractive and making beautiful notariety realistic, like HD tv meets black and white photography. Facial or body hair suddenly became remarkable distinctions. Photographs of filthy settings or subjects suddenly roared through in a clean focus at the center, like the developing in the darkroom had washed out the dirt. (I give you the elephant picture, above...the elephants are chained and dusty and dancing and the model is pristine and soothing...)
I don't have a favorite Avedon portrait--they all are mesmorizing to me with their preference for a white background and dark brooding. My least favorites are when he experiments with action (he has a very blurry and creepy one of a choreographer that I walked past in a hurry at the exhibit)--Avedon represents clarity, and any blur in his photography puts him in a category of no longer Avedon for my taste. He is most effective stock still, unshaven, insisting on the camera's attention, lined and worn. And so are his subjects.
(The Avedon exhibit is open until November of this year. Contact the SF MoMA for details, as this is a timed entry show--unless you're a member I wouldn't recommend just "dropping by".)