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Fashion Photography Snapshot: Richard Avedon

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. – Matt Hardy

Fashion history has long been immortalized on film.   We all surely have certain fashion photos that are burned in our memories, capturing moments in time – moments that stay with us long after the pages have turned.   The photograph can show both motion and emotion.   It’s a still, yet it radiates energy.

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The dream for many designers and models alike is to have a fashion spread in a notable magazine, where their work is captured in the perfect lighting at the perfect moment, transforming it from snapshots into art.   As we browse Vogue and Cosmo, we shouldn’t forget who’s on the other side of the camera, making the magic come to life: the fashion photographer.   The fashion photographer offers us a window into another world – the world of fashion (whether ready-to-wear or couture) – with all of its passion, elegance and vulnerability.

One of our favorite fashion photographers is Richard Avedon.  After Avedon’s death in 2004, his New York Times obituary said that “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”  In a career that spanned 60 years, Avedon is responsible for some of the most famous fashion advertising photos, including Brooke Shields’ first Calvin Klein campaign:

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Avedon was more than just a commercial photographer – he was also one of the most prolific Vogue photographers of all time.  In total, he shot 148 Vogue covers, including this one of Twiggy from 1967:

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Avedon also produced images that were considered high art, including this 1955 photo of Dovima wearing a Dior evening dress, with elephants from the Cirque D’Hiver in Paris.  In 2010, this photo sold for over $1.1 million at Christie’s:

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The fashion photographer is our tour guide into a world that many of us can only observe.  That is the beauty of photography: it takes us places and communicates immediately what can’t be described any other way.  In literally an instant, the photographer creates an impression worth well over a thousand words (or in this case, well over a million dollars).

Real people move, they bear with them the element of time. It is this fourth dimension of people that I try to capture in a photograph.  –  Richard Avedon

One of our favorite characteristics of many Avedon photographs is their sense of motion.   When looking at Avedon’s work, we can imagine the woman he’s representing.   We can almost feel her style.   Avedon’s work captures the element of time and yet is timeless:

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And while he was brilliant at capturing motion, Avedon was also a master of the still portrait:

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I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us. – Richard Avedon

Fashion is an inherently visual endeavor – the fashion photographer is in many ways a medium of sorts, coaxing out both an aesthetic and a mood from one single moment in time.  Brilliant fashion photography transports us, it sparks our imagination and allows us to take part in a kind of fantasy; it creates a world of presumed perfection.  But as we can see from Avedon’s photographs, the fashion portrait is in many ways also incredibly fragile – the image was there for a moment and now it’s gone, the hair that was then perfect is likely now out of place, the smoldering look is now a blank stare.   It gives us a taste and then leaves us wanting more.

Part of what draws many of us to fashion is our general nature to like beautiful things (however we choose to define “beautiful”); it is through brilliant fashion photography that we can connect to beauty; it is ultimately “the thing that happens between us.”

Interested in learning more about Richard Avedon?  Check out the Richard Avedon Foundation and check out this clip from the Avedon documentary, “Darkness and Light.”

 

 

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She's All That

She’s All That – Lena Dunham

Vogue cover, February 2014
Vogue cover, February 2014

‘Why did you all make us look at your thighs?’ My response is, get used to it because I am going to live to be 100, and I am going to show my thighs every day till I die.” – Lena Dunham

My instinct is to immediately glance down at my thighs as I write this, always quick to judge and certainly lacking Lena’s bravado.

Let’s talk about Lena Dunham.  It seems like people are always talking about Lena Dunham, and more often than not, it’s about what she looks like rather than what she is capable of (Emmy winner, writer, director, actress, etc.). Last year, I posted a link on my Facebook timeline to the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, lauding their efforts to encourage all women consider to themselves beautiful.  One of my Facebook friends commented on the post with:  “Why is it important for women to be beautiful?”  It made me think – my impulse had always been to want all women to think of themselves as beautiful, even if they don’t conform to traditional or popular standards of beauty.   The discussion of Lena Dunham, and her insistence on challenging conventional expectations for female beauty helps answer this question.

Why is it important for all women to be considered beautiful?   It’s simple: beauty makes us happy.  It’s why we listen to music, admire art, and travel to breathtaking places.   The more important question is:  why can’t more women see the beauty in themselves?  In 2011, @KiyahDuffey blogged about her daughter’s “beautiful body.”   In the post, she redefines very notion of bodily beauty as strength, ability, sensation, function — not size, texture, clarity, or symmetry.   Her daughter’s body is beautiful because it can, and not simply because it is.   Here’s a lesson for all of us:  let’s start some loving self-talk, why don’t we?

Quite frankly, it’s a little bit of upstream swimming to challenge what we think we know.  Just look at the number of women who criticize and judge Lena’s nudity in the HBO series Girls — this is nothing more than, as Tina Fey once put it in Mean Girls, “girl on girl crime.”   The best way to move forward?   Think about this:  my 3-year old daughter tells me I’m beautiful every single day, even when I’m feeling my worst about the way I look (should lose some weight, don’t like my nose or teeth, etc.).  Does she think I’m a supermodel?  No.  Does she think I’m flawless?  No.  She doesn’t associate beauty with that yet.  To her, beauty comes from love and a completely innocent belief that beauty is there because it just is.  And it’s hard work for me to stop self-criticism and doubt in front of her – why should I unteach the secret that she already knows but so many adults struggle to grasp?

Let’s go back to talking about Lena Dunham.   Lena is the rest of us….but she knows the secret:  beauty isn’t externally defined, it’s internally generated.  In our hearts, in our minds, in our friendships, our talents, successes and failures.   When I wrote “beauty makes us happy,” I meant feeling beautiful in your own skin and opening yourself up to the (often unsung) beauty of others and the world around us.

Why this post?   When you create a game based on fantasy shopping, wearing beautiful things, and looking at a zillion pictures of people who look completely flawless and fabulous at all times in their clothing, it’s easy to focus on external and traditional notions of beauty.  Let’s battle that impulse, shall we?   Let’s live in the fantasy world of fashion and keep dreaming of shopping glory, but let’s feel good about ourselves, shall we?   While women are BattleShopping, we want you all to be brave, to take good care of each other, and know that beauty is everywhere.   Including Lena Dunham’s thighs.

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