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Avedon

Exposing a banal personhood shared by all: Avedon's portrait of architect Buckminster Fuller, part of the Corcoran show.





Who's Who, Redefined
Photographer Turned a Clinical Eye on the Powerful

By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008; C01

Tomorrow through Friday, a Washington Post writer will examine a particular photo from the show "Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power " at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Richard Avedon photographed celebrities: presidents and generals, great artists and heads of industry. And he photographed nonentities: no-name soldiers and protesters and secretaries. What makes him one of the greatest portraitists of the 20th century is that, when he's at his very best, you can't tell which is which. Forget the old idea that portraiture's about revealing what a sitter has done, or some kind of "deeper self." Avedon goes even deeper than that, down to the banal personhood that we all share. He reveals his sitters as being simply there , and real. He gives them a compelling authenticity, even if he never claims to reveal the "authentic" them.

Of course, Avedon needs all the tricks in his tool kit to simulate such unadulterated, unplanned states of being.

"Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power," which opened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Saturday, lets us watch the photographer achieve his no-frills portrait style. The show's 231 portraits stretch from 1950, when Avedon was 27 and just launching his career as the world's greatest fashion photographer, to shots done not long before his death in September 2004, when the 81-year-old celebrity was felled by a stroke in the middle of a New Yorker assignment.

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