FINE ARTS

What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

Harper. Oct. 2020. 672p. ISBN 9780062442710. $35. BIOG
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This illuminating biography of Richard Avedon (1923–2004) is a sympathetic yet clear-eyed portrayal of the photographer’s life and career. Award-winning photography critic Gefter (Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe) details his subject’s milieu vividly, a circle encompassing a generation of cultural icons, from James Baldwin and Truman Capote to Mike Nichols, Andy Warhol, and Leonard Bernstein. Readers will relish the insider accounts of how famous images came to be made: model Dovima posed with elephants, Marlene Dietrich in her Blackglama mink coat; Ronald Fischer, the beekeeper. Avedon’s development as an artist is described alongside juicy bits of his social and professional relationships, all supported by meticulous research from interviews, archives, and published resources. Recognized for his incisive portraiture, Avedon himself struggled with identity issues of sexual orientation, his Jewish heritage, and feelings about money and celebrity. The perceptive author lays out these many contradictions in Avedon’s life, including mixed critical reviews that evidence a continual tension between commercial photography and fine art, contributing to Avedon’s own insecurity about his place in the art world.
VERDICT With this engrossing biography, readers will come away with a greater appreciation of Avedon’s artistic strengths and achievements, as well as the complex man behind the camera.

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