Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light

From the American Masters Series, this outstanding documentary on Richard Avedon was originally aired in 1995.

It's an intimate, hour-and-a-half long journey into the mind of one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, and it's brilliant.

Darkness and Light

I have watched it all the way through, twice. I was so into photojournalism when I came up in the 80's as a young photographer that I was late to discovering Avedon's genius. The further I go, the more my respect grows -- for his his mindset, his process and certainly his photography.

One idea the documentary revisits again and again is just how in tune with himself Avedon is. I have logged a lot of thinking time on that subject over the last few years and had come to feel as if I were making some progress. Then you see something like this, seeing the seemingly effortless self-examination of a visual genius. Now I feel that I have not scratched the surface.

Is that something you can unlock through time and work? Is there a just a trick to it? Or is there a self-examination gene you either have or you don't?

I dunno. But I do feel as if it is the key to unlocking a tremendous amount of creativity and I want to keep exploring.

If you have a way to play this on a bigger screen, it's certainly pulling up a comfy chair and spending 90 minutes inside the head of a true visionary. There's some lighting BTS in there (occasionally) but this is about far more than that. It'll make you think.



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Blogger Kevin Camp Photography said...

As with many who are truly great, their egos drive them to out do even themselves. They can be absolutely arrogant and impossible people to work with and deal with because nothing gets in the way of their vision, they sacrifice so much of themslves to it and they don't tolerate any thing from anyone else that gets in their way. That swhy so amny are truly unhappy and miserable people. They don't do the things they are great at out of love, many do them becasue they must or it will destroy them.

February 16, 2012 10:40 AM  
Blogger duzimage said...

Yes it makes you think and self-examination is something we should all work on... every day. Good images do not come from special photo sets, secrets behind the curtains but from inspiration, genius and sensitivity... all come from good balance inside our heads and hearts. Sometimes I spend too much time working on the light setup, the reflectors etc... focus on what you feel about what or who is in front of your lens.

February 16, 2012 11:05 AM  
Blogger Edward Yezekian said...

I've been obcessing about Richard Avedon for about the last 2 years. I am taken with his work in fashion, as well as his portraiture. i've seen this. also of note are the numerous interviews he's had with charlie rose. really get into his head.

great thoughts, and stories. and above all, through the years the interviews span, he is consistent. the mark of purity.

February 16, 2012 11:48 AM  
Blogger JustBane said...

Thanks David this is awesome... I am still watching but halfway through. Had to say I get a strong sense of confidence from Avedon. Maybe that is what gives him that power and introspection. I see really no fear or inhibition in him. I see utter resect for his subjects and a thirst for what he wants in a photo. I think this brings out a willingness in his subjects to show him or give him what he wants... just amazing.

@duzimage I think you are correct. master your equipment. know it intimately so that your attention can be the subject. their likeness and how you can bring your idea to light through them... I too still fiddle too much with the technicals. I find I even prefer being lost in the technicals because of inhibitions I have around subjects. Fears of not getting it right or just general nervousness. These are the things that hold me back.

February 16, 2012 12:34 PM  
Blogger JeanChristophe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 16, 2012 2:43 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I cannot count the number of times I have dipped into this documentary. His clarity of thought, and knowledge of the contradictions that the photographic act entails is truly astounding. It is also interesting that as one of the most successful photographers of all time, he was still wrestling with the demons that we all deal with - what makes meaningful work.

February 16, 2012 3:47 PM  
Blogger jim said...

dealing with light...a perception of the Mysterious. a level of profound spirituality i don't know.

February 16, 2012 6:45 PM  
Blogger vintagedesignsmith said...

It's funny to me that Richard Avedon is thought of as arrogant. I'm sure that he could be...such a big part of big talent in the fashion industry. But he mentored soooo many talented photographers (including training mere go'fers/assistants as photography assistants). Many amazing well known photographers owe their careers to his supportive studio (Tim Walker comes to mind) He lent Lillian Bassman his darkroom when he was out of town which spurred her creativity to new heights.
He is still teaching even though he is long gone.

February 16, 2012 9:14 PM  
Blogger Fonk said...

About halfway through these right now... Really good stuff; thanks for sharing. Like others, I'm struck by his confidence and his uncanny ability to extract exactly the emotions he wants his subjects to express, to get at their true center. Amazing work...

February 16, 2012 9:52 PM  
Blogger Edward Carlile Photography said...

I love the sense of the man's drive that clearly comes across in the film.I think that Kevin Camp said it best of all above, about Richard Avedon and creators in general,"They don't do the things they are great at out of love, many do them becasue they must or it will destroy them."

February 17, 2012 12:37 AM  
Blogger Edward Yezekian said...

the most amazing thing I find about Avedon's intellect is that he is able to articulate in words what most people can only think of in abstract ways. He had a real gift, one that can not be taught. but I think with practice and hard work mere mortals can come close, but it will never be free flowing like a natural.

February 17, 2012 10:19 AM  
Blogger Photography by Depuhl said...

I had the privilege to work with Avedon as a freelance photo assistant for 2 years from 1994-1996. He was an amazing photographer and it was incredible to work with him on some of the campaigns and editorial shoots. The simplicity of his photographer is were his genius was.

February 17, 2012 6:09 PM  
Blogger RE said...

Hey David, Ralph from Vancouver, here, we spoke briefly about the New Pornographers and Radio Paradise on the 1st stop of TFB tour in Seattle; a weak attempt to provide reference. I just wanted to say thanks for this post. It has served me as a great source of inspiration. Richard Avedon's part on the responsibility, as simple as this sounds, brought immediate clarity to my infinite nagging thought of,"what am I try to accomplish here?" The thought of it as a responsibility gives me greater direction. Thank you.

February 18, 2012 2:58 AM  
Blogger Tampa Photography Classes said...

Wow... thank you, thank you, thank you...I am forever seeking my own voice and thoughts about this art of photography only to find some one far more talented has said it for me...what a great find!

February 18, 2012 12:53 PM  
Blogger Bob Foscue said...

OK David. Now I'm starting to get it. This whole thing you've been beating into us (or trying to) about using photography for a larger a means to achieve something more significant than mere photographs. Thanks again for sharing this totally awesome and so inspiring clip about Dick Avedon! I watched straight thru and no doubt will watch it again soon. I am now officially addicted to your blog for my source of inspiration and motivation. Does this mean I really do need to get off my hind side and do something positive with what I'm learning? (don't answer that!)

February 18, 2012 6:12 PM  
Blogger Steve Loos said...

A page turner watched non stop. Best use of a Saturday afternoon ever. Thanks for posting.

February 19, 2012 8:11 PM  
Blogger dh said...

highly recommended book: Avedon at work in the amerian west, a BTS book about his american west photographs, written by laura wilson, his producer (and mother of actors luke and owen!)

February 20, 2012 12:33 PM  
Blogger Nionyn said...

Half way through so far, and I'm already getting more out of it than I'd expected.

February 20, 2012 10:31 PM  
Blogger Puggle said...

@david - Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed watching Avedon and have always admired his work.

My father was an art director and artist who also had Alexi Brodovitch as a teacher. Very cool.

February 21, 2012 9:17 AM  

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