Magazine article USA TODAY

A Well-Placed Family

Magazine article USA TODAY

A Well-Placed Family

Article excerpt

RICHARD AVEDON was born to a Jewish family--his father was a Russian-born immigrant and his mother from New York--in 1923. Working until his death in 2004, he shaped America's image of beauty, celebrity, and politics for more than a half-century. Famous at an early age, he was well-known for challenging conventions and exploring the boundaries between high art and social commentary.

The exhibition "Richard Avedon: Family Affairs" features two monumental projects, both illustrating his highly innovative approach to portrait photography. The first is a set of four group portraits, including a massive mural of the iconic beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his family, and three additional portraits shown at a smaller scale: Andy Warhol and members of the Factory, The Chicago Seven, and The Mission Council.

The second is a series of 69 portraits entitled "The Family" that Avedon created after being commissioned by Rolling Stone to cover the 1976 presidential election. Foregoing traditional photojournalism for the assignment, Avedon used his Deardorff 8" x 10" camera to create arresting black-and-white portraits of each of his subjects, creating a visual essay on the nature of U.S. politics at the moment when it was most conspicuous. Though his "family members" have no biological ties (with the exception of Ted and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy), they are alike in that they all hold positions of power and influence. "The Family" includes the 1976 presidential candidates (Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Gerald Ford); A.M. Rosenthal, managing editor of the New York Times, famous for publishing "The Pentagon Papers"; and W. Mark Felt, later revealed to be "Deep Throat."

Avedon's subjects also included others at the epicenter of the events and movements of the time (and some who still are today)--including governors, senators, members of Congress, and a wide swath of varied government officials (Bella Abzug, Jerry Brown, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Jordan, Edward Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Donald Rumsfeld, among others); media moguls and journalists (Katharine Graham, I.F. Stone); labor leaders/activists (Cesar Chavez, Ralph Nader, A. Philip Randolph), philanthropists (Walter Annenberg), and many more.

"'Family Affairs' documents a time of extraordinary political and social change in American history by one of the most significant photographers working in the second half of the 20th century," says Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at the National Museum of American Jewish History. …

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