By Norma Stevens and Steven M. L. Aronson
720 pages, hardcover, $40.00
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Written by his longtime studio manager, this fun, gossip-filled book does not pretend to tell an objective version of Richard Avedon’s glamorous life. Norma Stevens clearly adored Avedon, who was perhaps the world’s most famous fashion photographer turned artist, but neither does she sugarcoat his life; instead, she tells glittering, celebrity-filled stories about his complicated relationships and relentless ambition. For years before his death in 2004, Avedon encouraged her to write his biography after he was gone, urging her, “don’t be kind—I don’t want a tribute, I want a portrait, and the best portrait is always the truth. Make me into an Avedon.”
To that end, Stevens is helped by writer Steven M. L. Aronson and a wide cast of characters—including models, editors, clients, employees and friends—who fondly or bitterly but always vividly recall Avedon’s six-decade career among the shapers of 20th-century culture. Chapters cover his transformation from merchant marine to Harper’s Bazaar star photographer, and his series In the American West, which confirmed (for some) his status as a bona fide artist. Others describe the breathtaking assignments, campaigns, parties and exhibitions that filled his life. And one surprisingly candid chapter reveals Avedon’s homosexuality, a secret he could not bear to expose during his lifetime, even as the stigma of being gay receded.
Together, the book’s contradictory but brilliant portraits depict Avedon the same way he recorded his subjects, showing the whole, messy picture by paying attention to the perfection of its surfaces. —Rebecca Robertson