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Monday, June 17, 2024

Richard Avedon: Relationships – Kunsthal Rotterdam | 01.06.-06.10.2024

Editors’ Choice

This summer, Kunsthal Rotterdam is presenting from 1st of June 2024 a large-scale retrospective of the American photographer Richard Avedon (1923-2004). With over a hundred and thirty photographs, the exhibition Richard Avedon: Relationships sheds light on Avedon’s groundbreaking contribution to fashion photography as well as his distinctive photographic portraits. His powerful, expressive portraits capture people like the writer Truman Capote, the actress Marlene Dietrich, the musician Bob Dylan, the artist Andy Warhol, and the actress and model Nastassja Kinski. Relationships is a celebration of Avedon’s innovative power and creativity and shows how the photographer was able to convey the complexity and vulnerability of human relationships in the photographic frame like no other.

Image above: Truman Capote, writer, New York City, October 10, 1955, Photograph by Richard Avedon, © The Richard Avedon Foundation

Richard Avedon is considered a pioneer in the fields of fashion and portrait photography. Over the course of his career, Avedon would often photograph his models on multiple occasions and at different stages of their lives, thus revealing the developments in the sitter’s character and the unique relationship between the photographer and his subject. The exhibition Richard Avedon: Relationships presents the master photographer’s extensive and varied body of work, offering insight into his working methods and zooming in on how, to this day, Avedon’s characteristic portraits of world-famous actors, dancers, artists, and literary greats are still image-defining in photography.

Richard Avedon began his career in 1944, working for leading magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Here he caused a revolution by photographing his models in realistic and dynamic settings that sharply contrasted with the static poses that were commonplace in fashion photography at that time. With his cinematic images, Avedon was able to create a narrative that transports the viewer to a world of glamour and entertainment. The  photographer forged unique relationships with his models. Over the course of his career, Avedon frequently photographed the American supermodel Dovima. Their close collaboration resulted in the groundbreaking fashion photo Dovima with Elephants (1955), in which Avedon positioned Dovima — dressed in a gown by Dior — between two elephants, thereby literally highlighting the contrast between beauty and beast. The portrait of Nastassja Kinski (1981) that Avedon made for American Vogue, also became a world-wide icon, especially because of the timeless sense of eroticism the image conveys.

The portraits of the American poet and writer Allen Ginsberg illustrate that Avedon was unrivalled when it came to translating the mutual relationships of his sitters into images. Posing in the nude for the first, intimate portrait (1963), Ginsberg and his partner seem very relaxed, while the family portrait (1970) Avedon made a couple of years later accurately conveys the awkwardness between Ginsberg and his family. With the double portrait of the Italian writer and director Michelangelo Antonioni and his wife Enrica (1993), Avedon once again demonstrated his mastery in capturing the relationship between two people in a portrait: the mutual dependency and unconditional support are showing through in the pose, highlighting the couple’s intimate connection. 

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Michelangelo Antonioni, director, and his wife Enrica, Rome, May 18, 1993, Photograph by Richard Avedon, © The Richard Avedon Foundation

Typical of Avedon’s style is the way in which he positioned his model against a characteristic, white background to completely zoom in on the individual. Each work offers a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the subjects in a way typically reserved for partners or family members. With his portraits, Avedon places you so close to the sitter that even the tiniest wrinkles, lines, and hairs are clearly visible. His works exemplify how Avedon succeeded in uncovering the emotions of his subjects and reveal the photographer’s unrelenting desire to render each individual detail of the people in front of his lens.

Over the course of his career, Avedon photographed a variety of high-profile political figures. The photographer managed to get people like the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (1976) in front of his lens, and also had the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (1957) pose for him. A remarkable feature of Avedon’s working method concerned the disquieting remarks he made while photographing these people, manipulating and capturing his subjects — frequently upset or surprised — gaze. Commissioned by the leading magazine Rolling Stone, Avedon shot an extensive series of photographs of American politicians (1976). Relationships is presenting sixteen of these individual portraits that together also function as a group portrait, united by the shared ambition of the politicians to impact the course of their nation.

Avedon not only placed ‘the greats of the world’ in front of his camera. With equal passion and attention he also photographed a variety of working class people from the western part of the United States for his series The American West. The endearing portrait of the factory worker Mary Watts and her daughter (1979), and the portraits he made of the formerly enslaved William Casby and his family — part of the series Nothing Personal (1964) —, for instance, exemplify how Avedon succeeded in uncovering the emotions of his subjects and reveal the photographer’s unrelenting desire to render each individual detail of the people in front of his lens.

About Richard Avedon

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Richard Avedon, self-portrait, Provo,, Utah, August 20, 1980, Photograph by Richard Avedon, © The Richard Avedon Foundation

Richard Avedon (1923-2004) was born in New York City. During the Second World War he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine to serve as an assistant photographer. In 1945 his professional career as a photographer took flight and he started working for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. After that, he also began working for a variety of other clients, including The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. Avedon is known for the powerful and expressive portraits he made against a characteristic white background. Over the course of his career, many celebrities and prominent figures from the worlds of art, politics, and entertainment appeared in front of Avedon’s camera. The photographer also ran his own commercial studio in which he collaborated with renowned fashion brands like Calvin Klein, Revlon, and Versace. His work has been shown at venues like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and International Center of Photography (New York), the National Portrait Gallery (Canberra), and Foam (Amsterdam), and is part of collections like that of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London). During his career Avedon established The Richard Avedon Foundation. 

The exhibition Richard Avedon: Relationships is realised in collaboration with curator Dr. Rebecca Senf of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson at the University of Arizona and The Richard Avedon Foundation in New York. 


Saturday, 1. June until Sunday, 6. October 2024

Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm


Kunsthal Rotterdam
Museumpark, Westzeedijk 341
3015 AA Rotterdam, Netherlands


Regular: 18 EUR
Reduced: 10 EUR
18 years old or younger: Free
Groups of 15 people or more: 16 EUR/Person

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