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What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

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“Wise and ebullient.” – Dwight Garner, The New York Times The first definitive biography of Richard Avedon, a monumental photographer of the twentieth century, from award-winning photography critic Philip Gefter. In his acclaimed portraits, Richard Avedon captured the iconic figures of the twentieth century in his starkly bold, intimately minimal, and forensic visual style. “Wise and ebullient.” – Dwight Garner, The New York Times The first definitive biography of Richard Avedon, a monumental photographer of the twentieth century, from award-winning photography critic Philip Gefter. In his acclaimed portraits, Richard Avedon captured the iconic figures of the twentieth century in his starkly bold, intimately minimal, and forensic visual style. Concurrently, his work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue transformed the ideals of women's fashion, femininity, and culture to become the defining look of an era. Yet despite his driving ambition to gain respect in the art world, during his lifetime he was condescendingly dismissed as a "celebrity photographer." What Becomes a Legend Most is the first definitive biography of this luminary—an intensely driven man who endured personal and professional prejudice, struggled with deep insecurities, and mounted an existential lifelong battle to be recognized as an artist. Philip Gefter builds on archival research and exclusive interviews with those closest to Avedon to chronicle his story, beginning with Avedon’s coming-of-age in New York between the world wars, when cultural prejudices forced him to make decisions that shaped the course of his life. Compounding his private battles, Avedon fought to be taken seriously in a medium that itself struggled to be respected within the art world. Gefter reveals how the 1950s and 1960s informed Avedon’s life and work as much as he informed the period. He counted as close friends a profoundly influential group of artists—Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Harold Brodkey, Renata Adler, Sidney Lumet, and Mike Nichols—who shaped the cultural life of the American twentieth century. It wasn't until Avedon's fashion work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late 1970s that he became a household name. Balancing glamour with the gravitas of an artist's genuine reach for worldly achievement—and not a little gossip—plus sixteen pages of photographs, What Becomes a Legend Most is an intimate window into Avedon's fascinating world. Dramatic, visionary, and remarkable, it pays tribute to Avedon's role in the history of photography and fashion—and his legacy as one of the most consequential artists of his time.


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“Wise and ebullient.” – Dwight Garner, The New York Times The first definitive biography of Richard Avedon, a monumental photographer of the twentieth century, from award-winning photography critic Philip Gefter. In his acclaimed portraits, Richard Avedon captured the iconic figures of the twentieth century in his starkly bold, intimately minimal, and forensic visual style. “Wise and ebullient.” – Dwight Garner, The New York Times The first definitive biography of Richard Avedon, a monumental photographer of the twentieth century, from award-winning photography critic Philip Gefter. In his acclaimed portraits, Richard Avedon captured the iconic figures of the twentieth century in his starkly bold, intimately minimal, and forensic visual style. Concurrently, his work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue transformed the ideals of women's fashion, femininity, and culture to become the defining look of an era. Yet despite his driving ambition to gain respect in the art world, during his lifetime he was condescendingly dismissed as a "celebrity photographer." What Becomes a Legend Most is the first definitive biography of this luminary—an intensely driven man who endured personal and professional prejudice, struggled with deep insecurities, and mounted an existential lifelong battle to be recognized as an artist. Philip Gefter builds on archival research and exclusive interviews with those closest to Avedon to chronicle his story, beginning with Avedon’s coming-of-age in New York between the world wars, when cultural prejudices forced him to make decisions that shaped the course of his life. Compounding his private battles, Avedon fought to be taken seriously in a medium that itself struggled to be respected within the art world. Gefter reveals how the 1950s and 1960s informed Avedon’s life and work as much as he informed the period. He counted as close friends a profoundly influential group of artists—Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Harold Brodkey, Renata Adler, Sidney Lumet, and Mike Nichols—who shaped the cultural life of the American twentieth century. It wasn't until Avedon's fashion work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late 1970s that he became a household name. Balancing glamour with the gravitas of an artist's genuine reach for worldly achievement—and not a little gossip—plus sixteen pages of photographs, What Becomes a Legend Most is an intimate window into Avedon's fascinating world. Dramatic, visionary, and remarkable, it pays tribute to Avedon's role in the history of photography and fashion—and his legacy as one of the most consequential artists of his time.

30 review for What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jolanta (knygupe)

    4.5* Richard Avedono autoportretas. Richard Avedon (1923-2004) kontraversiškai vertinamas ir laikomas vienu garsiausiu JAV fotografu-portretistu. Fame is a bee,  It has a song-- It has a sting-- h, too, it has a wing. - Emily Dickinson. Ši epitafija, mano manymu, labai tinka Richardo Avedono biografijai. Pirmąkart apie R. Avedoną, beje, kilusi iš Rytų Europos litvakų, išgirdau skaitydama Geoff Dyer esė "Otherwise Known as the Human Condition". Tada buvau apsivertusi man negirdėtų fotografų albumais. Per 4.5* Richard Avedono autoportretas. Richard Avedon (1923-2004) kontraversiškai vertinamas ir laikomas vienu garsiausiu JAV fotografu-portretistu. Fame is a bee,  It has a song-- It has a sting-- h, too, it has a wing. - Emily Dickinson. Ši epitafija, mano manymu, labai tinka Richardo Avedono biografijai. Pirmąkart apie R. Avedoną, beje, kilusi iš Rytų Europos litvakų, išgirdau skaitydama Geoff Dyer esė "Otherwise Known as the Human Condition". Tada buvau apsivertusi man negirdėtų fotografų albumais. Per tą tuometinį susidomėjimą Avedono portretais ir neatsispyriau pagundai perskaityti šviežią jo biografijos knygą.  Labai jaučiasi, jog autorius prie šios knygos padirbėjo iš širdies. Tai ne tik Avedono biografija, bet ir jo laikmečio mados, pop kultūros ir apskritai to meto kultūrinio gyvenimo apžvalga. Ši kombinacija - biografija + istorija - labai vykusiai persipina. Nepasakyčiau, jog mane domina glamūras (nei istorinis, nei dabartinis), bet šioje knygoje jis man buvo palyginus lengvai virškinamas ir neerzino. Avedonas išgarsėjo fotografuodamas aukštąją madą. Ilgus metus dirbo žurnale "Harper's Bazaar", vėliau - "Vogue". Būtent jis mados fotografiją pakylėjo į kokybines erdves. Jo laikmečio žvaigždės troško būti jo fotografuojamos. Jo garsių žmonių portretai vadinami ikoniniais. Geriausias to pavyzdys - Audrey Hepburn. Anot pačio Avedono, jis nufotografo visus garsiausius to laikmečio žmones: prezidentus, mokslininkus, aktorius, dainininkus, rašytojus. Avedonas teigė, jog visi jo portretai (greičiausiai tie ne glamūriniai) yra autoportretai. Su ta mintim įdomu apžiūrinėti jo garsiuosius darbus. Man labiausiai patinka portretai, kur tiek garsenybės, tiek darbininkai ir skurdžiai gyvenantys žmonės nufotografuoti vienodai - pavargę, sutrikę, liūdni, atviri, tokie, kokie buvo tą minutę. O gal šie momentai buvo tik talentingos Avedono manipuliacijos su modeliais? Avedono kontraversiškumas glūdi ne tik tame, jog jis dirbo tiek mados, tiek meninėje fotografijoje, bet ir pačiuose jo darbuose. Didžiulis skandalas kilo, kuomet jis parodoje pristatė savo mirštančio tėvo portretus. Jis buvo kritikuojamas už per didelį anatomiškumą portretuose.  Dažnai jis savo parodose lėkdavo prie pozuotojų atsiprašyti už galbūt nelabai patrauklus jų portretus.  Jo įtaka fotografijai, kaip meno šakai, - nenuginčijama. Jo skandalingosios išrengtų nuogai Nurijevo, Ginsbergo ir Warholo 'Factory' nuotraukos padarė didžiulę įtaką akto žanrui. Buvo visai įdomu skaityti apie kai kurių Avedono fotografijų gimimą, apie kai kurių garsių asmenybių elgseną sesijų metu. Rekomenduoju neabejingiems fotografijai. JAV menininkė June Leaf. Rašytojas Truman Capote Rašytoja Susan Sontag Dizainerė Coco Chanel

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sean Desmond

    Incredible survey of a most prolific career. A thorough discourse exploring Avedon’s trapese-like balancing act as he juggled the indulgences of commerce with the immortal merrits of “art.” A family man, but who at the end of the day was most satisfied in his marriage to work. In the eye’s of his son, and of his partners was he truly “legend?”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Oliver

    An exhaustive and engrossing biography of Richard Avedon, one of the most iconic photographers of the last century. The book covers his life from childhood, growing up on Long Island under a stern and icy father figure, his fast-moving career in fashion photography, complex relationships with friends and family and the inner demons that haunted him. Avedon developed an interest in photography at the age of nine when he began to photograph his sister with a Brownie camera. Driven and focused, he An exhaustive and engrossing biography of Richard Avedon, one of the most iconic photographers of the last century. The book covers his life from childhood, growing up on Long Island under a stern and icy father figure, his fast-moving career in fashion photography, complex relationships with friends and family and the inner demons that haunted him. Avedon developed an interest in photography at the age of nine when he began to photograph his sister with a Brownie camera. Driven and focused, he was determined to work at Harper's Bazaar magazine and his dream materialized after an aggressive push to ingratiate himself into the company fold by getting acquainted with the art director Alexey Brodovitch who, in turn, introduced him to editor Carmel Snow. Under the tutelage of Brodovitch and Snow (whom he identified as parental figures) as well as "eccentric aunt" Diana Vreland, Avedon quickly moved up the ladder, first working at Junior Bazaar (an offshoot of Harper's) and eventually becoming the successor to George Hoyningen-Huene. Avedon's first magazine cover appeared in 1947 just as Dior was taking the fashion world by storm. The stories behind some of Avedon's most popular photos are all here, from how he achieved his most memorable fashion shots (like model Dovima posed alongside a pair of elephants) to his renowned portraits of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Marian Anderson, Rudolph Nureyev, Isac Dinesen, Andy Warhol and the Beatles. There are also wonderful stories and anecdotes about his relationships with the famous models he worked with, like Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Twiggy, Lauren Hutton, Penelope Tree and China Malcado. He also cultivated friendships with Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote and Mike Nichols (which developed into an affair that lasted a decade). As successful as Avedon became, he was plagued by doubts about his work not being taken seriously and tirelessly worked to make the critics and the world look at his work as art. He also struggled with his homosexuality and was paranoid about people finding out (he would accompany his date to the theater but insisted that they sit several rows apart from each other). He was married twice, first to model and actress Doe Newell and later Evelyn Franklin (who was formerly married to photographer Milton Greene). Despite his friendly and caring nature, his relationships to his wife and children suffered, mainly because of his workaholic habits. Meticulously researched and excellently crafted, this is a wonderful read for anyone interested in celebrity, photography and the fashion world.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Esther

    I am a very big fan of Avedon's work. I consider him to be one of the best portrait photographers in history. I didn't know very much about him prior to this book. I studied his work in photography school and have gone to the Foundation office in NY. This biography highlighted every one of his pictures and all the different movements he went through. It was interesting to read about how he approached each of his different subjects. I mainly knew him from his fashion/celebrity portraiture so I w I am a very big fan of Avedon's work. I consider him to be one of the best portrait photographers in history. I didn't know very much about him prior to this book. I studied his work in photography school and have gone to the Foundation office in NY. This biography highlighted every one of his pictures and all the different movements he went through. It was interesting to read about how he approached each of his different subjects. I mainly knew him from his fashion/celebrity portraiture so I was pleasantly surprised to read he photographed the Vietnam War, people from government, and had a collection centering on the American West. Once this pandemic is over, I plan to go to the Fort Worth museum where it's housed and see them. It was also interesting to read about how he wasn't really seen as an artist until late in his life. I wish this book had more of his photographs for reference but I understand that for copyright purposes they couldn't include those. I also would have liked in the afterword some sort of discussion on how he is such a big influence on photographers today. But all in all a great biography!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jack Perugini

    What a great, dishy read of a bygone time! The only thing that keeps me from giving this book five stars is the fact that practically none of the iconic photos described in great detail are included in the book! I often found myself Googling them for context.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mam

    Fascinating story of the transformation of photography from documentation to art and one of the catalysts for the change.

  7. 5 out of 5

    SusanLongo

    Learned alot -very good writing style and well researched. The book is a bit too lengthy but excellent. I had to keep putting post-its then going to the internet for the photo - the stories behind the photos are really good but they would need about 100 more pages of photos in the book than they have to cover all he did. Fascinating stories of Mike Nichols, Warhol and others.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joe Meyers

    Terrific new biography of the great photographer who lived and worked at the intersection of American commerce and art for many decades. Gives us a deeper and more objective look than the wonderful Norma Stevens memoir ‘Avedon: Something Personal’ - the books complement each other beautifully.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jim Gladstone

    Three years ago, I read Something Personal, a controversial biography of photographer Richard Avedon co-authored by his longtime studio assistant Norma Stevens. A juicy, salacious chronicle that was angrily refuted on many fronts by Avedon’s estate, it was nonetheless a fascinating reflection of 50 years of American pop culture, art and fashion. Now comes a classier, more analytical, but just as compulsively readable Avedon bio from an author with no personal scores to settle. Philip Gefter—a gi Three years ago, I read Something Personal, a controversial biography of photographer Richard Avedon co-authored by his longtime studio assistant Norma Stevens. A juicy, salacious chronicle that was angrily refuted on many fronts by Avedon’s estate, it was nonetheless a fascinating reflection of 50 years of American pop culture, art and fashion. Now comes a classier, more analytical, but just as compulsively readable Avedon bio from an author with no personal scores to settle. Philip Gefter—a gifted photography critc whose work has appeared in the New Yorker and Aperture, and who won the Lambda Literary Award for his biography of Sam Wagstaff, patron and mythologizer of Robert Mapplethorpe—counterbalances the gossipmongering of Stevens’ book with the more coolly observed and meticulously researched What Becomes A Legend Most. An art historian at heart, Gefter places the rollercoaster personal life and psychology of his subject within a larger cultural frame. Avedon’s rise came as the world’s art museums, curators and critics were in a roiling debate as to whether photography should be considered a legitimate artform, or whether it was forever to be regarded as a lowly stepchild, tainted by its commercial uses and inherent reproducibility. Less that a century later, it may be difficult for some readers to imagine a time when photography was not taken seriously—which may make it easier for them to understand the bitterness Avedon felt about his work being treated with a faint air of dismissiveness even at the height of his career. Avedon also stepped into the spotlight at a time—the mid-20th century—that homosexuality was also marginalized, which put him in yet another realm of quietly disdained secondary status. While Gefter deftly limns the dovetailing of Avedon’s career path with changing mores in American society as a whole, his book also effervesces with wonderful anecdotes; from photo shoots with the Rolling Stones, the Warhol factory crew, and Marilyn Monroe to Avedon’s celebrity-clotted social life which included friendships—and perhaps romances (Gefter is a bit too coy)—with Mike Nichols, James Baldwin, and other boldfaced names of the era. Like Avedon’s own work, this book maintains a fine balance of smarts and style.

  10. 5 out of 5

    June

    This is the definitive biography of a name known to many, but not as acclaimed as it deserves. Avedon's ability to create appealing and accessible images with technical perfection was truly remarkable. This biolgraphy takes some time even getting to his career, though--you walk away knowing more about not only photography, not only Avedon and his subjects, but the zeitgeist of his era and the many people who played roles in his world. I found myself envying his date of birth and address book nea This is the definitive biography of a name known to many, but not as acclaimed as it deserves. Avedon's ability to create appealing and accessible images with technical perfection was truly remarkable. This biolgraphy takes some time even getting to his career, though--you walk away knowing more about not only photography, not only Avedon and his subjects, but the zeitgeist of his era and the many people who played roles in his world. I found myself envying his date of birth and address book nearly as much as his talent. What a remarkable time to be a photographer. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to review a digital ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amy Christine Lesher

    An in-depth biography of one of the best known photographer of the 20th Century. I had only two issues with the book: first the theory raised that Avedon and Mike Nichols had an affair spanning decades with no real proof of the relationship and the second was the in-depth description of his better known photos without the photo in the book. I kept my phone close so that I could look up the photo. I would have been happy to have only one section of personal photos and a second of the photos discu An in-depth biography of one of the best known photographer of the 20th Century. I had only two issues with the book: first the theory raised that Avedon and Mike Nichols had an affair spanning decades with no real proof of the relationship and the second was the in-depth description of his better known photos without the photo in the book. I kept my phone close so that I could look up the photo. I would have been happy to have only one section of personal photos and a second of the photos discussed in the book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lisafaith

    What Becomes a Legend Most is a fascinating and entertaining biography of Richard Avedon. Who knew he had an early life as a poet and was school friends with James Baldwin? Or how is was inspired by his muse - his beautiful fragile sister with mental problems so severe she spent most of the life institutionalized?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Raquel

    Covered this for the NY Post: https://nypost.com/2020/10/17/fashion... Covered this for the NY Post: https://nypost.com/2020/10/17/fashion...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne Grossman

    It wasn’t necessarily that enjoyable, but it made me think- and that’s valuable in these stagnant, COVID times.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Fedor Vercammen

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lou Mallory

  17. 4 out of 5

    Martha Birnbaum

  18. 5 out of 5

    A.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mick

  23. 5 out of 5

    Geneva

  24. 4 out of 5

    Donna dunn

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

  26. 5 out of 5

    Philip Gefter

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kirill Nikolenko

  30. 5 out of 5

    Julie

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