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Hardcover Avedon at Work: In the American West Book

ISBN: 0292701934

ISBN13: 9780292701939

Avedon at Work: In the American West

Internationally acclaimed for his portraits of powerful and accomplished people and women of great beauty, Richard Avedon was one of the twentieth century's greatest photographers--but perhaps not the most obvious choice to create a portrait of ordinary people of the American West. Yet in 1979, the Amon Carter Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, daringly commissioned him to do just that.The resulting 1985 exhibition and book, In the American West, was a...


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Incredible and thought-provoking

I, like another reviewer, saw this exhibit in the 80's in San Francisco and was awed by it. The images have never left me. Now, as a teacher, I use the images as part of an exercise and educational tool (I have a poster of the exhibit I show to students.) It really helps put other's lives in perspective for my students and opens their eyes to a world of people they might never meet (or will overlook)thereby doing exactly what Avedon set out to do with this work.

An unmissable classic

In 1978 glamour photographer Richard Avedon shot some portraits in the MidWest. The Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth, Texas, asked him to follow up on those, and Avedon set out for the American West to portray what amounts to the reverse side of the American dream. The project ran until 1984. By then, Avedon had photographed 752 people in 17 states; a selection of 123 portraits constituted the eventual exhibition and the collection in this book. The illusion of equality and great opportunities for all, and the Hollywood-slash-John wayne dream of the good old pioneering West - a dream shared by a surprising lot of westerners themselves - are effectively shattered by these haunting portraits of barmaids, drifters, ranch-hands, prisoners, mental patients, Hutterites, coal miners, slaughter house workers, 12 year old girls looking twice their age, (sub) teenage boys handling guns and snakes, oil-rig workers, and many others alongside them. There is hardly a face here that is not marked by toil and hardship, the stark black-and-white detailing every crevice, freckle, rimple, mole and scar. As one commentator noted, the West is often represented by its landscape; here the faces are the landscape of the West, and, one might well suspect, its true landscape. Of course, similar portraits of ordinary people living under harsh conditions could be taken in many places in the world; the portraits in this volume take a significant part of their impact from the fact that they come from that "greatest nation on earth", a land associated with glamour, enterprise, success and outward appearances, that we are used to seeing represented rather differently than we find it here. Here, the great heroic cowboy dream is reduced to a shiny, oversized rodeo buckle worn by a skinny boy. Yet there is nothing condescending or patronizing about these images, on the contrary. The facial expressions mostly speak of deep earnestness and dogged determination, rarely of sadness, and most of the people we meet in this book exude an extraordinary power and pride despite their often dishevelled looks and sweat- and dirtstained clothes (others, however, have donned their best finery). But there is anger, threat, and undisguised, at times overwhelming machismo too, as well as an occasional subject who seems on the verge of tears, like oil field worker Bubba Morrison. The portraits are painfuly candid, often moving, and always artistically well-considered and visually beautiful. They engender instant curiosity about the stories behind these faces - only a very little of that is satisfied in the Background section at the end of the book; we are given a little more in Laura Wilson's delightful volume "Avedon at work in the American west", which is worthwhile considering in addition to the work itself. The subjects are all portrayed against an anonymous white background; nothing is romanticized, nothing is allowed to divert our attention from the sitter him- or herself. At times, the bru

It's on the shelf with my other good ones

My son gave me this book years ago as a birthday gift. It's not one that I look at every day. In truth , sometimes years go by before I pick it up again. Always, the images beg to define their stories. I often wonder as the years pass, what has happened to those portrayed. Only once, as I recall, did Avedon return to shoot the subject twice. That image is of a young cowboy. Avedon initially captures the hope and wonder of what his future holds. The second image taken but a few years later already shows much of that hope diminished with the realization of this is all there is. Perhaps I read too much into it, but I think that's the power of the images. We read individually into them and perhaps with more than a little bias come to our own conclusions. Anytime I need a shot of creativity to look at our world and the people and stories within so that I too can try to capture on film, or now digitally, I need look no further than Avedon's book.

Amazing photographs

When I was a teen in the early eighties, I went to see the exhibit of these photos in SF, CA with my mother. From what I understand, Richard Avedon traveled the American West, photographing people that he came across in his everyday travels. They weren't beautiful supermodels, they weren't made up actors, they were real live people. I remember like it was yesterday, the huge black and white photos included the tired and haggard teen girl on the cover, a snake handler holding a disemboweled rattlesnake, a grizzled and mean looking prisoner with jail tattoos, insane asylum patients with wild eyed stares, scruffy drifters and many more. After the show, I talked my mom into buying the book for me, and took it home, where it's been a prized posession ever since. Every time anyone comes over to my home and checks it out, it always opens up a discussion. When it went out of print, I know that I was disappointed as folks always wanted a copy after seeing my own, and I think it's great that it's been re-issued. If you are a fan of photography that captures the stark realism of the human spirit, don't miss out on this book.

An amazing book

I have never seen anythink like what I saw in this book. The photos are haunting and show how hard some peoples lifes are. I just finished ordering 3 more of his books, wish I could afford his "Autobiography" book.
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