Richard Avedon’s Fashion Photographs at the Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) celebrates fashion and photography with the work of Richard Avedon, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000, on view October 18, 2009 –January 17, 2010, features 181 works, including many vintage prints, magazines, contact sheets and other archival material from the Avedon estate.

“This exhibition not only surprises through the scope of Avedon’s work in fashion photography,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “It also dramatically demonstrates what a radically innovative force he was in this field.”

Nadja Auermann
Nadja Auermann and A Person Unknown, dress by Romeo Gigli, pajamas by Masha Calloway, Montauk, New York , August 1995. © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Avedon’s legendary style reflected the political, social and cultural changes that influenced the lives of women and the fashions they wore for nearly six decades. The exhibition begins with his early work at Harper’s Bazaar, where he was hired in 1944 at the age of 21. His youth and exuberance brought a fresh, new approach to fashion photography and was instrumental in rejuvenating the post-World War II Paris fashion market. Avedon revolutionized editorial fashion photography by breaking away from the convention of shooting models in static, unimaginative poses, bringing fashion to life by photographing models in motion, both in the studio and beyond.

By the 1950s Avedon became even more dramatic and unconventional in his approach, often placing models in settings that ranged from the exotic to the whimsical. In a section of the exhibition called “Paris by Night,” he captured the elegance and vitality of both the “City of Lights” and the couture by shooting at night in Paris’ streets, cafes and local haunts.

Models were among Avedon’s most vital collaborators, and helped him define the emotional complexity, drama and beauty that he found so fascinating in women. In a 1993 interview he said, “Dress designers lent me textures, shapes, patterns that became the ally of my true work, which was always about women—what was going on beneath their clothes, beneath their hats. In their heads.” Directing magnificent spectacles that embody the high glamour of the era, he photographed Dovima, one of his favorite models of the time, conveying tremendous composure and grace among the elephants at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris, and exuding timeless beauty posing in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Suzy Parker was another favorite model. Emphasizing the active lifestyle of post war women, Avedon photographed her playing pinball, roller skating, and walking in the rain with a handsome man on each arm. Through Avedon’s images, Parker became an early prototype for the “cult of celebrity,” paving the way for future supermodels like Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton, Twiggy, Penelope Tree and Veruschka, whom he photographed in subsequent years. Avedon’s fashion work with actresses and performers is seen in playful pictures of Audrey Hepburn and Barbara Streisand and in sultry fashion portraits of Bridgette Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor.

After 20 years at Harper’s Bazaar, Avedon joined the staff at Vogue, where he ushered in a new era of fashion work reflecting the energy and liberated styles of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He embraced the Civil Rights movement and strove to bring women of color and diverse ethnicities to pages of fashion magazines. Avedon was one of the first high-profile photographers to work with African American and multi-racial models, including Detroit-native Donyale Luna and the Eurasian model China Machado.

By the 1970s, Avedon developed a signature studio style photographing models in mini dresses and menswear-inspired clothing of the era. Always reinventing the fashion picture, he looked to isolate figures and capture movement. Anticipating the gestures and poses of his subjects, he often caught them in mid stride, jumping, dancing and cavorting against a seamless grey backdrop. By the 1980s, until his departure from the magazine in 1988, Avedon shot nearly every cover for Vogue where he worked with celebrity fashion icons such as Brooke Shields.

After 1990, Avedon worked for several magazines and exclusively on ad campaigns and catalogues for designer Gianni Versace. Works from this decade include collaborations with Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Stephanie Seymour. In 1992 he became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker where he contributed several fashion essays. Avedon continued to dominate the photographic world until his death in 2004.

A fully illustrated, hard-cover book, Avedon Fashion 1944-2000, will be available in the museum shop.

The exhibition was organized by the International Center of Photography with the cooperation of The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. This exhibition and its catalogue were made possible with a major lead grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support was received from the ICP Exhibitions Committee, National Endowment for the Arts, Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Clémence and William von Mueffling, Mary Ann and Frank Arisman, Harper’s Bazaar, The John and Annamaria Phillips Foundation, Joseph and Joan Cullman Foundation for the Arts, and Mark McCain.

Hours and Admission
Hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for ages 6-17, and DIA members are admitted free. For membership information call 313-833-7971.