Friday, August 5, 2011

Richard Avedon & Marilyn Monroe

Among 20th century photographers, one of my personal favorites was the great fashion and portrait artist, Richard Avedon.

Richard Avedon, Self-Portrait

A master of both black and white and color formats, high fashion and stunning bits of realism, Avedon had an eye for expression that was unparalleled in his era.

Certainly the most famous subject of Avedon's eye was actress Marilyn Monroe, who he shot numerous times throughout her career.

I came across a couple of shots of Monroe from Avedon that in my opinion truly show the full power of Avedon's camerawork.

The first picture is of Monroe mimicking silent film star Theda Bara as Cleopatra, from a classic 1957 sitting where Monroe posed as the "sex goddesses" who came before her.

Richard Avedon - Marilyn Monroe as Cleopatra (1957)

Rich color, exotic design and Monroe herself just stunning not only in her raw sexuality, but in her grace and power. It's a powerful and erotic image that more than 50 years after it was shot has lost none of its power. But then that's my point, Avedon was truly a great artist.

But as much as I like this classic posed shot, my favorite picture of Monroe by Avedon is in most ways, just the opposite. Where the Cleopatra shot is posed, bright and pure Hollywood glamour, his most effective Monroe portrait in my opinion is this classic b&w shot also from 1957..

Richard Avedon - Marilyn Monroe, New York City (1957)

Off the cuff and with Monroe unaware, Avedon captures the actress as she was, not the glamorous goddess of the screen, but just tired, run down, Norma Jean.

It's a powerful shot, captured by a brilliant photographer.

Avedon had one of fashions great eyes, but as a fan, it's these kind of moments of quiet reality, that truly blow me away.

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