Speaker The photography, the fashion photography that Avidan came out of was so hermetic in some way is so like a hothouse. Something completely, I think to some extent, European and classical, something that was not really any longer part of the time, part of the way people lived. But it was an image that had been fostered by the magazines for years. Something about elegance and and a kind of wealth and elitism that the magazines promoted and loved. And I think that a lot of women who first read magazines went to them for that, for something a little removed from their own world, something different and rarefied. Most of the photographers, I think we're doing work that was very much about a kind of theatrical stage set. Something different. Sorry. Yeah, kips. Let me turn the photography that that happened and fashion magazines before Avidan had a lot to do with a kind of theatrical tableau with with putting women in a frame, essentially putting them and an asset that had there was more about decoration and kind of a hothouse sensibility than anything that had anything to do with real life. There was there were amazing pictures by Beaten and Worst and Honigman, Hoonah and Steichen and all the people who had worked in the 30 years before Abbadon came around. But for the most part, they seemed to have their subjects, the women and the pictures and these incredible gowns. But as if they were mannequins, not not really real people. I think they they had a sense of of the theater and of decoration, but not a sense of people living their lives. For the most part, I mean, there's this wonderful beeton picture of a group of women, an enormous ball gowns and a kind of sitting room, all exactly set in a beautiful setting. But there wasn't no sense of life in that room. And I think Avidan, when he came along, brought life, brought always a sense of people living their lives and people going on with a life outside of the frame and outside of fashion and outside of this rarefied sort of elitist world that the fashion magazines had always promoted before that Mr..

Speaker All right.

Speaker The problem is just to keep. I'm not used to doing something over again. I'm sorry.

Speaker Let me just. Figure out how to to restart.

Speaker Just start. OK. I think a lot of what Avidan came out of and reacted against the material that that he had seen and grown up with was kind of theatricality and fashion and a kind of world that was very hermetic. That was exciting, but very closed in. A lot of the photographers who worked before him were amazing. And it created just lush, you know, incredible pictures. But there was a lifeless sense to a lot of it that within the magazine was kind of exciting, but it didn't go outside of that realm.

Speaker There was something very removed and lifeless about it, but beautiful. I mean, it was about beauty. It was about wealth. It was a kind of elitist dream of the way women could live beaten to this amazing picture of women in ball gowns in a room that was you know, that still is one of the great fashion photos, but sort of, I think typifies what came before Avidan, a lifelessness, a theatricality that was very limiting. That didn't go beyond that room. Most pictures from that period, Hanigan Huna beaten, lot of these people were, in a sense, more decorator's than photographers. They had a way of putting women in a frame against kind of architectural background, against a very theatrical backdrop that they would create. I mean, these tableaus that didn't exist anywhere but for the photographer and within this frame in the studio.

Speaker And whenever Don came along, it wasn't that he just took people out of that studio. But he, even within the studio, encouraged them to be spontaneous, to be as if they were in a real situation.

Speaker There was a sense of people living lives and a life that went on outside of the frame of the picture and a kind of openness, a kind of real ness that hadn't really been in the pictures before. It was always kind of outside the frame, always somewhere nearby. But the pictures themselves had a kind of remove. And Avidan came along. And I think because he was young, because he had a whole way of seeing the world, that in a sense reacted against what these people were doing.

Speaker But also drew on their sophistication, their sense of beauty and their sense of decoration.

Speaker He took that and took it out and not just into the street, but into this kind of sensation of real life, of people living.

Speaker Airplane or maybe just a few less.

Speaker That's. Exactly.

Speaker Yes. I think one of the things that must most definitive or distinctive about evidence work from the beginning was this sense of an inner life and outer life. A woman in the world, a sense of really wanting to connect with women's lives.

Speaker But I think he uniquely had I don't think anybody projected that before so that there was even when he had people in the studio, there was this feeling that they were connecting to each other, model to model as as real people, not quite as mannequins. And when he took them out, they had this sort of spontaneous life as if they were as I always felt, that his best fit pictures, there was the sense of you dropping into a film. You're dropping into someone's real life or someone's, you know, quote, real life because he could create that and the picture frame.

Speaker But women on the streets of Paris, women and gambling halls, women kind of running just toward their lovers or toward, you know, you as the viewer. There was this beautiful sense of people's lives coming out of the frame and being. Rich and real, and I think I guess for me, what what excites me about his work is the sense of the filmic narrative that he constantly created.

Speaker I think he he didn't think frame by frame. He didn't think of one picture at a time. He thought of a kind of life going on. So if you saw Suzy Parker running down a street or stepping off a curb, he always had a sense of that movement even when he was in the studio.

Speaker I mean, a lot of his most famous later pictures have become, to some extent, clichés of fashion, women jumping and their hair blowing in the wind. But there when he did them for the first time, they were really revelatory. And I think that they, the best of them, remain that way.

Speaker You want to talk about the Soozie program, Mike Nichols, why and what was. Really, truly innovative about what was uniquely Abbadon about it.

Speaker Also look at, you know, about what that story was about and what you know, what was important.

Speaker There's.

Speaker Well, Avidan famously did the Paris shows each September, or at least they appeared in as issues of bizarre. And each time there was, I think he really tried to do something new. It was a challenge to go back to the same setting and think it rethink it in a different way, to always make it fresh. And after these extraordinary sessions there.

Speaker I mean, you know, VEMA with the elephants, the the early ones with that had this incredible sense of of romance and sort of the theater of life.

Speaker He kind of kept pushing, kind of kept looking for a new way to do this. And in 1962, he took Susie Parker, who had used countless times before as a model. And Mike Nichols to Paris and use them as if they were real people in the middle of a romance and played off the whole paparazzi style by shooting them in supposedly spontaneous and very believable situations, fighting with the press, fighting with other photographers.

Speaker And I love pictures of photographers taking pictures of photographers. And he had a real sense of, you know, being and there in that moment and bringing the film and the theater sense out of the situation.

Speaker He clearly sort of drew on the paparazzi obsession with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and created recreate at some situations, some famous situations of all of their fights with the press, their public fights with each other. This one picture of one of them throwing a glass of wine at the other. And other pictures taken as if through foliage of them kissing, as if by a proper artsy, you know, across the street. And there's this wonderful sense of. People creating a drama just for for you, for the the fashion magazine for. And at the same time, I think a lot of people totally believe the situation that he created, this fiction that was so compelling and so believable.

Speaker OK.

Speaker Well, I mean, I think that what's what's always compelling about Abbadon is that he had a real feeling for his moment.

Speaker I think that was what made him individual from the moment he started. I don't think anyone else had the same sense of life going on outside of the frame. And I think he's clearly from the work, a sophisticated, worldly, curious, restless kind of person who has a real sense of the culture of life at the moment of his moment. And I think that he's always very tuned into that. And to be able to bring that sense into the picture itself is what makes his best work really exciting. I think that he's always been able to draw on the culture at large and always for that reason. The pictures always seem totally modern, the way most peoples have never been able to. And I think the difference for him.

Speaker From the difference that he made in fashion was that he brought a totally modern look to it, that opened up everything. Mainly because I think he was always tuned in. He was always part of his moment and made that part of the picture.

Speaker Yes, you want, but that's the singular contribution that you want to talk about it once more.

Speaker Yes, sure. What I've always thought was evidence, main contribution on what struck me about his work from the very beginning was this sense of modern entity, of his being very much in the moment and being totally tuned in to the moment. I think that it's clear from the work that he. His culture, that he's sophisticated, that he is worldly and very curious and restless and always looking for the next excitement and not the thrill, but just as really serious excitement. I think he's a serious and intellectual. If that word works for him, person, so and all those things inform the work. And I think that there's something that always is tied into the world at large. His work and his best pictures are sort of not dated, but very tied into their moment. And because I think he always is. And I think that's part of what makes him exciting and makes the work kind of of the moment and yet timeless.

Speaker I think that he he loves just looking around and seeing what is going on out there and making it part of his picture, part of the magazine. I think that he would be stifled if he couldn't always push that and bring it into the work. And that's what makes his best work live and connect. And it doesn't. I think he found a way as he was working to make fashion always lively for him by tying it and to the world at large.

Speaker And I I. Well.

Speaker I guess I really feel that I think that he's he's genuinely not that he could have, like, died a long time ago if he was just in fashion and that he was the only way he could make it work for him is to constantly tied into everything else that he cared about and try to make it real for him.

Vince Aletti
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Vince Aletti, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 27 Jan. 1995,
(1995, January 27). Vince Aletti, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Vince Aletti, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 27, 1995. Accessed May 16, 2022


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.