The Avedon Experiment

Richard Avedon was a portrait and fashion photographer from the early 1940s until his death in 2004. He famously shot many covers of Vogue magazine, and is known for his portraits of Audrey Hepburn, Marylin Monroe, and the Kennedy's. 

I recently came across a photo of Avedon himself sitting on a stool in a studio. The photo inspired a shoot I did a few weeks ago. 

Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt in New York, 1963.   Image via the Life Archives.

Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt in New York, 1963.
Image via the Life Archives.

Avedon has been an inspiring figure to me in many ways, not only through his photographs, but the way he lived his life, the way he worked with his subjects, and how he continued to evolve throughout his career. 

I believe in maniacs. I believe in type As. I believe that you’ve got to love your work so much that it is all you want to do. I believe you must betray your mistress for your work, you betray your wife for your work; I believe that she must betray you for her work. I believe that work is the one thing in the world that never betrays you, that lasts. If I were going to be a politician, if I were going to be a scientist, I would do it every day. I wouldn’t wait for Monday. I don’t believe in weekends.

If you’re headed for a life that’s only involved with making money and that you hope for satisfaction somewhere else, you’re headed for a lot of trouble. And whatever replaces vodka when you’re 45 is what you’re going to be doing.
— Richard Avedon

Avedon's photography was very personal to him. It was truly an expression of who he was. The decisions he made as a photographer reflected his sincerest urges, and that is why I believe he always managed to surprise and compel viewers. As he evolved as a person, so did his work. I strictly negate to use the word "mature", because I believe that his work was always mature in that it was always honest, never contrived. 

I often emulate the style of photographers that inspire me, as a way of learning. I will never know exactly how a photographer achieved a given shot, so I cannot reproduce exactly what made their photo great, but trying to mimic the style is a great challenge. There is a combination of decisions, when taking a photograph, that are unique to that moment and that photographer. The exact position where you are standing, the perspective, the focal length, the moment you decide to trip the shutter...all of these elements make a photo distinct. And yours. 

I asked two ladies to model for me so that I could execute my "Avedon Experiment". I had a few of his early fashion photos in mind that I was using as a reference. I shot on 2 different film stocks, Adox CMS 20(at 12 ASA) and Ilford Pan F Plus 50 (at 40 ASA). Adox turned out to be an incredibly high contrast film, which did not play well with my relatively high contrast strobe lighting. 

Photograph by Monet Du Plessis

Photograph by Monet Du Plessis

The girls, Anna and Monet, were wonderful models. They were very patient while I fumbled around with lights and lenses, and were intuitive with their expressions. 

Overall, not a bad way to spend a Tuesday afternoon.