Iconic seems too cursory a word to describe American photographer Richard Avedon, whose prolific visual output played a formative role in shaping America’s zeitgeist from the late 20th century onward. Less known than his indomitable portraits is the photographer’s body of film and video work, which he compiled throughout a remarkable six-decade career.
'I had always felt that there was a key component of Dick that was yet to be truly appreciated,' says preeminent makeup artist James Kaliardos – Avedon collaborator, Visionaire co-founder and the curator of the new exhibition 'Richard Avedon, Moving Image'. 'I feel like Avedon’s film work offers an insight into his process: he always wanted to really know his subjects and that was really my training as well. It was about revealing and igniting a person, not projecting onto them.'
The multisensory exhibition – on view at New York's Cadillac House – features 12 large digital screens, which play never before seen casting interviews, short films and the groundbreaking television commercials the photographer shot for clients such as Chanel and Calvin Klein. Proving that insouciance is far more powerful than hypersexuality, Avedon conveyed sensuality with a knowing wink. Certainly the most famous of his commercial work is the outrage-inducing 1980 advertisements for Calvin Klein Jeans, which featured a then 15-year-old Brooke Shields professing: 'What gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.'
A Broadway aficionado, Avedon could deliver theatricality with his eyes closed – he portrays a pantomime of himself in the campy advertisements he shot with Lauren Hutton for Japanese brand Jun Ropé – but much of the footage is surprisingly affecting. In one Biba-esque video from 1973, Anjelica Huston laments her mother’s recent death; in an advertisement for Calvin Klein’s 'CK Be' fragrance – visually reminiscent of Avedon’s highly collectible In The American West series – model James Kind discusses a friend’s suicide.
Taken together, the films serve to underscore Avedon’s raison d’être as well as his enduring influence on today’s image-makers. 'Dick wasn’t interested in beauty for beauty’s sake,' says Kaliardos, a fashion authority in his own right who regularly worked with the photographer for the last ten years of his career. 'While he invented much of the vernacular of fashion photography as we now know it, he was emotionally invested in his subjects – famous or otherwise – and would spend a lot of time with them searching for a sense of their inner selves.'