SOME of the subjects in this exhibition you’ll spot a mile off – a confronting full frontal nude Nureyev, an intense Dylan, incredibly young and innocent Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr, Marilyn Monroe and her intellectual husband the playwright Arthur Miller.Others you’ll know of , like the eminent late choreographer Merce Cunningham or the dreaded New York critic Harold Bloom.
Still more, you’ll see through a glass darkly like Louis Armstrong and Malcolm X rendered in a deliberately fuzzy style.
All the portraits are the work of the late American photographer Richard Avedon, known, as National Portrait Gallery curator Christopher Chapman explained to media this morning, “its boldness, its rawness and its tenderness.”
To some, Avedon was the celeb photographer par excellence, but very few of these plaudits that are anything but confronting, with his tormented, anorexic image of model Kate Moss a fine example.
When it comes to rawness, there are portraits of writer Dorothy Parker, teeth stained by smoking, or celebrated Black American diva Marian Richardson in full, sweaty flight singing a solo from Verdi’s “A Masked Ball.”
Also included are unusually intimate portraits of a group of unknown people from a series begun in 1978 Fort Worth, Texas.
The exhibition, titled “Richard Avedon People,” is made up of 80 original photographs and in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York, and is the first time this remarkable artist’s work has been seen in the southern hemisphere.
Curator Chapman has chosen to focus on Avedon’s portraits across social strata, particularly his interest in counter-culture. His empathy with early gay rights proponents, the poet Allen Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlovsky leads him to portray their relationship in an uncompromising way.
As the chief photographer for “Harper’s Bazaar” from 1945-1965, Avedon was later the subject of a 1980 exhibition at the University of California’s Berkeley Art Museum. In 1992 Avedon became “The New Yorker” magazine’s staff photographer.
Richard Avedon, “People,” at The National Portrait Gallery, 10am – 5pm daily, until November 24.