Speaker OK.

Speaker I first saw the picture of Sandy. When the time that I first saw the book right there on the cover, I had no idea what the book was, where it came from. I came home from school one day. I was 12 and it was there in my house. And I was grabbed immediately by this picture of Sandy on the cover and overalls with freckles. It's titled In the American West. And I still remember the way that that image grabbed me. She looked my age. She looked like someone. She looked like the kind of person that I would want to know or maybe even be not someone who lived in Washington, D.C. like me in the city, but someone who lived just out on farm, something like that. And I picked up the book and I remember the afternoon because I didn't do any homework. I just sat there and pored through it. One picture after another, staring at the people, looking at their names, what they did. And for hours it got dark outside, put a light on it. And I was just absorbed by all of these pictures. And it fascinated me that I could stare at these people and see every detail of them, like I would never be able to look at someone in real life. These strangers. It fascinated me that that their names and where they lived and what they did, where the information and the pictures and that it was all true so that I could maybe go find these towns and go to the places.

Speaker And it would be almost like a phone book. I mean, I could find people and know the real people behind the pictures. And it was so narrative. The book I mean, it just told all these stories to me that I guess were in my mind, but the pictures brought them out and.

Speaker And it grabbed me the book.

Speaker And then as as I got older, I it was always something that I loved. And when ever, ever anyone would come to my house, I would show them the book. And people got a little tired of that. And it made me want to start traveling and go and meet people like this, real people, regular people and and know the story beyond their look.

Speaker And then should I keep going? And then I am. And then I got to college.

Speaker And like many people, I didn't know what I want to do, what I wanted to study. But but I knew that one thing that was in me was this sense I had had since that first time I saw the book that I just wanted to get out there in the US and go out and meet real people and hear what they had to say and what was beyond just those pictures that were always in my mind. So I decided to do American studies. And when it came time to do my final thesis in American studies, again, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I tried again to think of something that had been with me all along. And it was this was this book. And so I decided to do my thesis on the book and to somehow wrestle with the argument that surrounds the book about which I had discovered as I got older and I started reading up on what this collection of photographs was all about, that I had know nothing about when I first saw who Richard Avedon was, where the idea for this book came from.

Speaker And I discovered the whole controversy, people saying that the pictures were exploitive or that they they somehow they trapped these people. They and I felt, well, maybe I could see that. But at the same time, I felt like Avedon only had the best intentions, sort of like I did, wanting to go out there and somehow recognize these people who were out there in the West, real people who work hard and, you know, work on farms and coal mines and things like that. So I wanted to explore that controversy. And it's an it's a fundamental American conflict. I mean, the romantics had the same problem, Emerson and Thoreau trying to celebrate the common man. And it would always kind of back flop.

Speaker But I felt like everyone's talking about how these real people feel. But no one was talking to them in like one way to try and resolve that would be to talk to one of the subjects, talk to one of the common men. And so there I saw the perfect example to do what I had always wanted to do since that first day, which was to talk to Sandra Bennett. And I went to the university. I said, if I can find her, will you. Will you fly me out to meet her and interview her? And they. Sure, yeah. If you can find her. And I searched and searched the Library of Congress phone books, finally tracked her down and. And they gave me a grant. I flew out there and I met her. And that's how it went full circle.

Speaker I mean, is that all right to be so.

Speaker Oh, the marriage is about the real.

Speaker OK. Before I went out to meet Sandra Bennett, I worked hard to to get all these. Out of my head, because I knew it would just complicate what I was going out there to do, which was to interview Complete Stranger about her experience in this book. And I kept reminding myself, I don't know her. She's she's not my best friend. And she's not me. And I kept trying to remind myself she's not going to look like she does in the picture. And and when I got there, it was I was working hard to remember that all up until the minute that she walked in the door and. And then she embraced me and she was so warm right away that it kind of had to do a double take. And my whole visit with her was like that. She was so warm and so kind. It almost in some ways verified everything that I had always thought that there was something between us. But at the same time, I didn't know her. And it was a weekend where I was getting to know her and her family and the things that she's interested in. But it was a little uncanny that on that we just got along so well. And our conversation in the interview, it was more like two to people who were super enthusiastic over the book, just talking on and on and on. I mean, we went off in every direction and we talked for hours. It was it was a real conversation. It wasn't an interview between strangers like I had tried to get ready for.

Speaker And this, you know, if you could go back and just talk about the power of that image or the power of the book and the impact that it had on your life.

Speaker OK.

Speaker It's even now, after so much thinking, reading, writing, talking about this book.

Speaker It's hard for me to articulate exactly exactly what it is, the magic that this book has over me.

Speaker Avidan has said that what what he tries to do is to present images, which is somehow when people look at them, they'll just feel less alone. They'll feel a sense something of themselves and their sense of connection to the outside world. And and I think that's what happened to me. And I think that that these pictures were just the perfect touraine for me to to build all these imaginary stories, these fantasies that I had in my head, that all the details of the people were just there, such rich pictures.

Speaker And there's so much to look at that even now, even now, I can look at the book and discover things that I haven't seen, even though I know it by heart. I can look at a picture. I know the name, the job, the town, the date. I mean, I know it all by heart, but I can still notice things that I've never noticed before.

Speaker And somehow it's it's like it's just a whole wealth of materials from. For me to build stories with in my mind that have to do with being somewhere where I'm not with. With the West. In terms of the mythological idea of the West as the other. And it's just a place beyond the future. And all of those ideas are ones that I'm carrying around all the time.

Speaker Concretely, also, this book did change your life. It affected your choice of profession. It. You talk about, OK, OK, is it?

Speaker It changed my life. OK. OK. This collection of photographs, in some ways it could seem as if it changed my life because. Because it did affect what I studied. In fact, what I did in my thesis. It will affect I know the things that I will go on to do. It's but it in some ways it's not a change because it's more it's more something that's been in my heart. It came into my heart, this book. And then because and then I've just built upon it more and more and more by recognizing what this book means to me. I've been able to explore more and more. And it's funny that that I can make a study and a thesis and a job out of this. This book, which is just an emotional thing inside me. It's been since I was a kid. Like like a favorite toy almost. Or favorite story book. And that's so much could come out of out of a text, which is just my my favorite story book.

Speaker What did you learn about the nature of photography from the first response to Sandra Bennets portrait? A very interesting answer. Multiple meanings. Any one. Yes.

Speaker I think they have learned that that photography is what it's a difficult medium. First of all, because it looks so factual and so concrete. It's a dangerous medium in some ways because people can use it to suggest fact where there is, in fact, is not fact and people can interpret it as fact when it's not meant to suggest fact. But it's that's also what is what's so fascinating and exciting about photography and especially about this book in the American West, because these pictures are evidence creation. I mean, he set up the frame. He chose people set up the frame. He emphasized certain expressions, instances. And then in the processing, I mean, he emphasized all kinds of things, certain wrinkles and shadows. And he could pick and choose and create his own little story in the image. But because they're black and white in front of a white screen, like a mug shot, they look they they look like truth. Like fact and. And people interpreted as fact. This is a real person is exactly what they're like. And it makes some people angry. It it it it provokes a response finally is what it does. It gives me the response it gave me that I feel like there really are these people out there and that I could go and meet them. And and I guess finally, what I've learned is that it's important not to blame blame each other in the situation of the photograph, to blame the artist in this case, Avidan, for creating a certain story, to blame the audience. In this case, critics for interpreting it in a certain way or to blame subjects for looking like they do. It's it's a mutual collaboration. It's a. It's a project we do together. That has to do with our imaginations about the things that we want to think about. And in that way, it's especially interesting because it's both a personal, personal thing where you see what you want to see in the photograph of things that are in your head. You interpret in the photograph, but also in collaboration with people you don't even know.

Speaker A little bit about this to come and circle back on that point, though. One thing you discovered was how many different narratives are possible. When we were interviewing students, Asians and just the multiple meanings. OK. OK, maybe just being one of the things I learned. OK.

Speaker OK. One of the things that I learned about the way that photographs can can mean so much in so many different things to different people. One of the things that really brought it home to me that there is no one single meaning to a photograph, even if it looks so simple and straightforward, like the Avidan w pictures. The thing that really proved that to me was when I went to a class of writing students and put up the picture of Sandra Bennet in the picture of one, the bottom two very different portraits. They didn't know just like me when I first saw the book. They didn't know where these pictures came from, who Avidan was. I mean, maybe they knew from their personal experiences, but it's not I didn't go in there and explain anything beforehand. Just put them up and ask them to read the photographs, to write out sort of the way that they saw them. And the responses were so varied. And it's just it was crazy the way that they were so different. Some people saw Sandra Bennet as a poor Western wave and she's on another girl. The circles under her eyes would be smeared, makeup left over from a party put on this girl. It's the expression of a long and tired life and, you know, too many hours in the fields and things like that. Other people said one person looked at her picture or this picture of a 12 year old and interpreted it in in this lengthy sexual way. Which is very different from the way that I've ever seen the picture. Talking about how a farm boy has come to know her beauty intimately. And but the work goes on in the American West. And the interpretations told me so much about the people who were looking at these pictures and nothing really about the picture of Sandra Bennet, except that it can mean so many different things to different people that really brought it home for me.

Speaker It's just different ways.

Speaker Yes, it was.

Speaker The controversy around this book centered on the the idea that subjects in this book, subjects that I wanted to meet so badly and sort of cared for after looking at their pictures for so long that they were being exploited, trapped in evidence frame, kind of condemned to look poor and sad and ugly. And that was primarily what it centered on.

Speaker And and the critics brought up all kinds of things that I had never realized before, talking at length about the exact ways that Avidan manipulated the pictures, which it's true, they don't look manipulated at all. They look pure and simple. But they they explained how he had emphasized certain lights and darks and certain details and suggested that people pose in certain ways and snap pictures at certain instance and chosen the specific shots which gave the expression he wanted.

Speaker They talked about how they talked a lot about evidence, history as a fashion photographer and the way that it might be that he's renowned in fashion photography for a sense of movement and drama and excitement and liberty.

Speaker And yet suddenly in these pictures of regular people, he hasn't trapped and stoic and uncomfortable looking. And why is there this dichotomy and what is he trying to say about these people? They talked about his photography of famous celebrities, how it's kind of funny when Rose Kennedy is trapped in a frame and in looks uncomfortable and just kind of pathetic, finally. But when you do it to a real person, it's not so funny. And and what is his intention?

Speaker And.

Speaker And and I I could understand what the critics were saying. It's the same thing that critics of the romantic said when they attempted to celebrate the common man. Well, you're coming from your elite position in society to say this about the regular people of America. But you don't recognize this and you're only representing this of these people and not their hardships or something like that. And I think it's a controversy which is goes throughout American history. Whenever people whenever someone tries to celebrate the common man of America, which we value so much in our society and sort of at the root of the way we think of ourselves as a democracy. But yet somehow when you try and make piece of art, a piece of democratic art, something goes wrong and something becomes conflicted in it. I think it's sort of inevitable.

Speaker Do you think the photographer has. Moral obligation?

Speaker That's a good question.

Speaker Evidence talk at length about that himself. And in some of the things that I read from my research. No, I don't think that a photographer has a different responsibility to the sitter. Photography is a different responsibility to the sitter. And a portrait than a painter has a responsibility to its subject in a portrait. But I do think that there is somehow an artist needs to recognize what one of the critics termed the portrait contract. When people sit for a portrait, they're hoping that they're going to be represented sort of at their best. They're not looking to be looked arranged or or ugly or have their flaws just, you know, blown up for everyone to see. They're hoping to look their best. I think that's sort of natural. And I think that in the tradition of portraiture of the portraitist tries its best to his or her best to make the subject look as good as he or she can. But. And. But recently, I guess in more modern work, people have sort of played with that contract. And Avidan, I think plays with it, too. But something there does seem to be need to be some sort of responsibility taken. And I don't know what exactly I think Avidan tried his best to recognize his responsibility to his sitters by first full by identifying them and not leaving them as anonymous faces or just kind of freaks in the frame, just caught there also by his what I think is so remarkable that he kept up contact with so many of the people that he sent them copies of the book, invited them to the exhibit that that that he's still in contact with Sandy now and then. I think that that speaks to a real responsibility as a portrait artist. And I think that that is that's that to me resolves the conflict.

Speaker How for you would you bring about this is the composition of the photographs, the extreme Close-Up, the white background effect, the response.

Speaker I think that the composition of these photographs is just just ask someone to step in and start adding the color and the background and everything like that. It's it's what I think led me to just start imagining so much as what.

Speaker OK.

Speaker OK. What it is. What those elements.

Speaker OK. The I think that in evidence West portraits the the white background, that the simple black and white and hard lines and subjects, that the way that every detail of their clothes, of their face is so emphasized and so textured, I think that those details invite someone to to step in and start imagining what goes on around the picture, around the solid black and white image. It's it's a mug shot. A hyper defined mug shot, sort of. And then from there, you can you can you can imagine what's behind the person in the white screen, what the way that their clothes look when they move. I mean, you can you can just start to imagine the way that people move. And I think that it's it's the spareness of the photographs that invites the viewer to just add all the rest. And that's why they're so narrative, even though they're so plain on the surface. Yeah. Yes. When I had when I saw the pictures, it.

Speaker It made me want to start imagining, imagining the background behind the people and and the way that the that the tiny details worked in their lives.

Speaker The man used his pens that are in his pocket with his pocket protector, his little briefcase he's holding on to so tightly. The scientists picture the way that the waitress worked in her leafy shirt and this loud polyester shirt. I mean, you can see every detail. And it just asks you to step in and start thinking about them. One picture I can think of, which I think by its very simplicity lends itself to this sort of imagining, is the picture of one, about two.

Speaker And when I look at it with his chain and his packs of cigarettes lined up in his belt, it it just you know, I start to imagine his in his crazy posture on the surface, the picture. It's very stark. He's almost all black. And the background is white. But then you start to notice all these tiny details as you get drawn in.

Speaker And then you start to then you start to know, well, he smokes well, he's got a wallet in his pocket connected by a chain. How did he get that posture? Is he looking at us this way? And then you start to imagine where it goes from there. When I got the written responses from the students in the writing class to that picture, it was kind of funny. I mean, the way that people just went off and saying, is Harris tasseled? Probably from a high speed motorcycle ride through the desert. And they just went on and on. I mean, they do it his whole life just based on these details, which were so plainly set forth in an evidence frame.

Speaker Me think. I don't want to talk about Sandy Benton again.

Speaker Maybe another picture, which I can think of, which by its bareness just lends me to start imagining. It's the picture of the two sisters who looked so different on Easter Sunday. I can't remember their names. Right now, it's a net. And Lydia, I think and and one they look at first, again, just the contrast between dark and light. One sister's dark hair. And she's dressed in dark clothes. The other sister is in. Oh. Has bleached white ash hair and light outfit. And it's a sort of suit, whereas the other one's just in this old t shirt. And the contrast between the two of them just you start to examine closer and closer and you see the most amazing similarities of both of them have their eyebrows teased in this. And it's strange in particular manner. Exactly the same. The two sisters and they both have the same noses and mouths. If they look so different, the two of them, they both have the same figure. But you wouldn't notice it at first one in her white suit and the other in her old t shirt. And you just start to realize that the contrast and the similarities, you start thinking in their personalities. Well, one must just sort of be a housewife in the other. One must be, you know, she's going to church and she looks more professional and then start to think, well, who's happier with with their lives? I mean. And so they're sort of the same mold and who's happier in it. You can just go on and on just by the bareness and all the facts presented right there. How act how accurate the pictures are. Avidan had said that all of these photographs are accurate, but none of them is. It's true. And I think that that that's sort of it. The truth is there is no truth there. I mean, these are fantasies that I'm making up in my mind when I look at the pictures, the meaning of them. But they're so accurate. Every accuracy is just right there for you to see. And I think that's what starts of you are just imagining and going off in her head.

Speaker Let's talk about Soccers response to these two, to this book and general pitcher. He had very strong response.

Speaker Yeah. Even before I went out there, I just from my brief phone interview with Sandy. I knew that that she didn't like the picture.

Speaker She said, I hate it, but I'll talk to you about it if you want. But I'm not even so excited about talking about I want to show you around Santa Fe and that. She really wasn't even interested in talking about the book. She said.

Speaker And when I got there and I met Sandy, we sat down for our interview. Turned out that she had an awful lot to say about it. And. And together, we really we talked about it for a long time. She she hates the picture. First of all, she she thinks she looks terrible. She thinks it really suggests something about her that she feels is really untrue and that she's sad, that she's poor, that she's kind of going nowhere. And that's not how she sees herself at all. It's not how I saw her either. And and she feels like the book as a whole suggests that the West is a depressed and lonely, poor place. And she thinks it's a lot more to the West and to her than evidence pictures would suggest. I talked to Sandy about the ways she thought she would do a book of the West, and she had a million ideas. And she said, of course, you know, how long would that take? It took Avidan this lot five years to do this. How long would it take to also show the Indians in the mountains and and, you know, the the art in Santa Fe here and everything? I mean, she she could think of more and more and more that she would put in a book on the West. It's B it's true. There's no way that you could represent everything. This is definitely evidence vision. I think that's what we decided together. We talked about the what we thought Avidan was, how we saw the West. And she said that she hoped she hoped for his sake that he didn't see it as dark and gloomy as she saw it in his pictures. I also I asked her how she felt that maybe not everyone would see it in this dark and sinister way, but that someone like me could look at her picture as a 12 year old and see so much potential in there. See see a future where I could could travel and meet these people and get to know them, just like I had now come to nine years later to meet her. And. And she thought she thought the. She thought that situation was wonderful in some ways and we got along so well. And it was so, so strange the way had come to be. And she hoped that maybe more people would have a reaction like me. But I think that she shuddered to imagine the way that these easterners, that she imagine that these museum people and art critics, if they would interpret her picture in the collection.

Speaker OK. Sandy was adamant in the fact that she did not like this book and she didn't like the way people were represented. But it was it was fascinating for me to also go through the book and look at all the pictures with her, which is something that is one of my favorite things to do with anyone, but especially with her after I had wondered for so long what she was like. It was wonderful to go through together and look at the different pictures and interpret what we saw. And when she went through that, you could tell that the pictures, nonetheless, despite her opinion on the book, affected her and moved her. The way that they moved me, the way that I think they move everyone, even the people who are adamantly opposed to it. She would look through and shoot, oh, this looks just like people I went to high school with.

Speaker I mean, it's not them, but they look just like people I went to high school with or. Oh, you can tell that, you know, he works hard and and that and he he works a long day. And that man there, he has real dignity.

Speaker And as we went through, I mean, she started just like I do, just imagining and creating a story that goes around these people and talking about how parts of the pictures corresponded to what she knew in the West, how the man's a.l been, how and his portrait with his long, hard fingernail, how she sort of typical all these old men. I know they do that. I don't know why, but they all have this one really long nail. And I had never really noticed that before until she pointed it out. And. And as we went through, she just recognized so much of her own experience or so many of the things that were in her head about the West she saw in the pictures. And to me, it was it just sort of proved what I've what I've always been thinking, that there may be problems in in the situation of the West portraits. There may be issues that are raised, but finally, they all move us so much. I mean, they mean so much to everyone who looks at them.

Speaker I'm one of the essays that you out. He was a Richard Bolton. He talked about during the time of the exhibition. Filings, department store U.S. Soldiers Sell Levi's.

Speaker That was I couldn't believe that when I read when I read in the Richard Bolton article, which first of all, this Richard Bolton article was with such a wealth of information for me and was so well-written. I wish I could could talk to him because he was seen as so helpful in my work. And when I read in that article something I had never known about this collection before, that in Boston when it came, their filings department store had not only thrown all kinds of support behind the exhibit at the museum, but had used it for all kinds of promotional purposes, had put mannequins in the window in Guest's denim, and then had a picture of Sandra Bennet next to it. I couldn't believe it. I mean, that was the discrepancy between those two things just so striking and. So at. I think that right there, that situation that happened in Boston when the show went there, that presents a real problem is Richard Balton described it. It's suggesting that here the unfashionable girl of the West can become the fashionable, you know, manakin model in guests and in designer denim. And it does start to really demean the people who are in those pictures.

Speaker Sandy, talk to Sandy about that. She never knew about that either until she read my thesis. And she she was really disturbed by that. She said that that's I mean, I know how to dress. I'm a good dresser. She couldn't believe that people would present her as as as the sloppy Western kid who could look as good as the filings mannequins.

Speaker She only went in and did a little shopping. You know.

Speaker The moral issue. All right.

Speaker Yes. Richard Bolton talks about, you know, maybe Richard Bolton talks about the idea of evidence, responsibility to these people. And he says, OK, evidence sent them and sent them a copy of the book once he could find and ask them to come to the exhibit. But that's. But did he tell them that their whole image was based on the fact that they looked bad or odd or uncomfortable? Did he tell them that. That their images would sell for more than they make in a year or even two? He, Richard Bolton, really exposed sort of the class situation behind the popularity of this book and how these were signs of the uncultured that the culture could appreciate. And even stories like the story about Billy might come into the museum and seen his picture and being so moved. I mean, I think that's a wonderful story. Richard Bolton took another look at that story and said, you know what? What does that mean? Finally, that the that the uncultured can come to the museum and find ourself in high art. What is going on here in terms of the class issues? And he really, really exposed that and explored it. Chopper was there like I was staring anyway and talk about what Richard just was a wonderful synopsis of all those various moral issues.

Speaker One.

Speaker Where did you find it? Track him down, at least write him a letter here who he added so much to my thesis and to the way I was thinking about things. OK. The article by Richard Bolton, which talks about all the issues and problems that the American West collection raises, was just invaluable to my thesis. I don't know what I would have done without that article. His prose was so lively in the first place and just wonderful to read into quote. But also, he just he really looked at every aspect. And one of the aspects that I thought was fascinating. I had never known this and really problematic was what happened when this exhibit went to Boston. He took a case scenario, came to Boston, to a little museum there. A little tiny place. It didn't have much funding in the big department store filings through all the support behind the exhibit because it was an Avidan exhibit and also promoted it extensively, sent little flyers about it to all the credit card holders and used pictures from the book, especially the picture of Sandra Bennett for all kinds of promotional campaigns, as one spokesperson from filing said in the Bolton article. The W pictures are the ideal, the ideal way to showcase today's denims and jamborees. And it was all the whole the whole the whole filings department store put on. It's this fashion show called Fumie Ready for the West. And they just they used it extensively. I couldn't believe it. And I, I really I do think that's problematic. When when pictures of of poor and.

Speaker It's kind of sloppy. People caught in these awkward moments are suddenly put next to mannequins in windows who are wearing expensive denim outfits. And I am actually Sandy didn't know about this either. And I talk to I talk to her after she read my thesis. That's where she found out about this. And she was so alarmed by this. I mean, just just really couldn't believe it. She said, well, I, I know how to dress and I'm a good dresser, and I can't believe that people would would use my picture to look unfashionable. And I told my mother that she couldn't believe it either, you know? She couldn't believe that. That she would be put next to these mannequins to show kind of dichotomy.

Speaker And I and I, I do think that there that there is a problem in that when.

Speaker When? Well, when.

Speaker When pictures of people, the discrepancy between pictures of the people who look awkward and uncomfortable, we're not preparing to be photographed by a fashion photographer or can be photographed to have them picture in a department store catalog are put next to fancy mannequins and and and the newest in Western wear.

Speaker Oh, really?

Speaker OK. Bolton also brings up how the discrepancy between. How much? Bolton also talks about the issue of money and how did these people know that their photographs, which had become worth, you know, thousands of dollars more than they make in a year or even two would be based on the fact that these people look poor and that they look uncomfortable and awkward. Did they know, despite the fact Bolton says, despite the fact that Avidan sent them copies of the book and tried to keep in contact with them and recognize the responsibility for the sitters in that way, does it still resolve the fact that the entire situation of this in the American West Book is based on the fact that the people standing awkward and grimy in the frame look very different than the probably eastern high, higher class art society people who are looking at them talking to Sandy? I think that that bothered her as well. The discrepancy between those two, especially because she really identifies herself as someone who is it's more it's not it's more in the second class is in the class of people who are looking at art, who are buying art. She has all kinds of art in her home. She's a painter herself. And it really bother her that she felt like her picture was was based on this idea that there were two camps and that there was no doubt that there was no interconnection between the two. I mean, if you look in the West Book, there are two White Cliffs. I mean, white collar people. There's a scientist and I think two scientists, woman and a man, both ends pages facing each other. And as far as I remember, those are the only ones. Aside from a preacher.

Speaker Even though we're to sandy out certainly herself because of memories.

Speaker About her first meeting of families was. It all came about the.

Speaker Sandy, was Sandy used to go when Sandy's picture was taken for the West Book? It was just a regular day. She was living for the summer with her grandmother in this tiny town in Colorado. And they went to watermelon day and night and she said, like like I always do. I was running around. I was talking to everyone and and seeing all the rides and everything. My grandmother would always just get a chair and sit under a tree and watch me. And I was running around and it was a really hot day. And a man came up to me and asked if he could take my picture. And it was Richard Avedon. And I said, sure, yeah, OK. Because if someone is take your picture, that's fine. And because that's my nature, she said, because I'm warm and friendly. And she said, well, let me ask my grandmother. She asked her grandmother and I said, well, who wants to take your picture? Why? And she sort of gave Avidan the third degree. And he said, Well, I've been following your granddaughter around fair for an hour now. And I'm so moved by the fact that she has on everyone. She's so warm and it's just bringing so much out and people and I want to try and capture that on film. And so Kermit said, OK. And Sandy got up before the screen and she asked if she could fix her hair because she's told me that she always was really picky about her hair, had all kinds of hair spray and everything. I couldn't believe I mean, I look at the picture and I see just some little kid. And she said she went to fix her makeup because she thought her mascara might be running, which I guess it is when you look at the picture. But I never thought of this kid is wearing mascara either. And, um. And he said, no, no, no, no, you look fine. And they said, and don't smile. And she couldn't believe. She couldn't smile. She didn't even know how not to smile. She said, which is true even now when you meet her. I mean, she's full of smiles and always laughing and talking and smiling and and so we told her not to smile. And this is the effect. And she said that she looks at this picture. Some people say they look at it. They see, you know, the sexual aura behind this young girl starting to emerge or they see the hope that's beyond the desperation. The West, which is I look at this and I see a little kid who's trying not to smile.

Speaker And with her hair all mixed up.

Speaker I think that in real life, if you look at someone the way that you can look at them in these pictures and get in big trouble, I mean, you can't you can't examine someone intimately in real life, scrutinize every detail of their appearance. It's it's it's invades their space. It's it's rude. It's just kind of nutty. I don't even think you can two people who you're very close to in your life, maybe you can in the course of days, finally pick up on the way their face works or something like that. But you can't just say stand there and then look at every tiny detail of them, just examine it minutely the way you can. And these portraits. It's an unnatural situation or unnatural to the way that we're used to working. And it's it is it's a strange economy because it feels like you're doing something very intimate. It's very private. It's just you and this person in the frame and you're getting to know them very privately like you never would if you just met them on the street. But the same time, they're strangers. I mean, they're millions of miles away. They've grown up since the picture. They don't even know nothing about them. And in here, they're two dimensional. They know nothing about you. But yet, just in the experience of looking at these pictures, you feel very close to them. You can. The more you look at them.

Speaker Effectively, a whole series of past. Research about photography and appreciation of a new art form and a friend, but you're also thinking about it. OK.

Speaker OK.

Speaker The West portraits have been with me all along and and been at the heart of all these big decisions I've made about what I want to study. And now as I'm done with school and I'm trying to think about what I want to do in the future, and they're still with me in my heart. And I would love to do what I've wanted to since that day when I was twelve. And I would love to get a grant or something and go out to the West and meet as many of these people as I can, get my whole book filled with signatures and somehow ask them all what I talked to Sandy about. About what? What do you feel you want to say that goes beyond the frame of this picture? What's your story of the West? How do you think you are that's different from how this picture represents you? How do you read your picture? How do you read the other pictures? I would love to just fill out all the space, beyond the frame, beyond the white screen and and meet as many of these people as I can. And in a concrete way, I'm I'm planning to pursue that, too, to do some more writing, to try and get some funding and to try and go out there to look for these people and talk to them.

Speaker You're welcome. Thank you.

Hannah McCann
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-2f7jq0t92d, cpb-aacip-504-610vq2sr1p, cpb-aacip-504-v11vd6pw2d
"Hannah McCann, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 21 Oct. 1994,
(1994, October 21). Hannah McCann, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Hannah McCann, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). October 21, 1994. Accessed June 28, 2022


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