I had always thought that Richard Avedon was a fashion photographer who had taken a few street life pictures of New York. The recent show at the Art Gallery of Western Australia was an eye-opener. This guy had a real eye for the human face and form; the gallery showed some absolutely knockout black and white pictures, many of them of writers and actors. One of the biggest pictures in the gallery is of a poor Georgia teenage boy holding a gutted rattlesnake. This one gets right in your face and is highly confronting – the stuff of nightmares.
There is also a great picture of Dorothy Parker taken close to the end of her life when the booze was finally finishing her off. The bags under her eyes are half way down her face and she looks as ravaged as a bag lady. Yet, even then, her prose was so incisive. There’s also a great picture of Ringo Starr, the best one I think I’ve ever seen of him and another of Truman Capote. Avedon also photographed the dancer, Nureyev, in the nude. The guy is hung like a herd of horses – can that thing can be real? It doesn’t pay to linger in front of this picture: it makes one feel insignificant.
My favourites of Avedon’s pictures are the close poses of husbands and wives. There’s the famous one of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, taken in 1957 just a few days after they were married. It’s clichéd, of course: a picture of beauty and brains, but they look happy and it’s difficult to guess from the picture that only months later their relationship would be in the toilet. But then, it was Avedon who was said that all photographs are accurate, but none of them is the truth.
My favourite picture in the exhibition was a large (at least two metres by one metre) portrait of the film director Michelangelo Antonioni and his wife, Enrica. She is a mature and beautiful woman, curvaceous and self-assured. She looks as if she has her husband’s number; maybe she is giving him a bit of hassle. But it’s the look on Antonioni’s face that I love. He has he has the self-satisfied smirk of a man who is loved by beautiful woman. He doesn’t care if she’s giving him talking to; in fact I would swear that he’s copping a bit of a feel while she’s on his case. Wonderful!
I relate to pictures of beautiful women holding onto ugly looking blokes. But, then again, I would.