An intimate biography of Richard Avedon, the legendary fashion and portrait photographer who 'helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture' (The New York Times) by his long-time collaborator and business partner, Norma Stevens, and award-winning author Steven M. L. Aronson.
Richard Avedon was arguably the world’s most famous photographer – as artistically influential as he was commercially successful. Over six richly productive decades, he created landmark advertising campaigns, iconic fashion photographs (as the star photographer for Harper’s Bazaar and then Vogue), groundbreaking books and unforgettable portraits of everyone who was anyone. He also went on the road to find and photograph remarkable uncelebrated faces, with an eye toward constructing a grand composite picture of America.
Avedon dazzled even his most dazzling subjects. He possessed a mystique so unique it was itself a kind of genius – everyone fell under his spell. But the Richard Avedon the world saw was perhaps his greatest creation: he relentlessly curated his reputation and controlled his image, managing to remain, for all his exposure, among the most private of celebrities.
No one knew him better than Norma Stevens, who for thirty years was his business partner and closest confidant. In Avedon: Something Personal – equal parts memoir, biography and oral history, including an intimate portrait of the legendary Avedon studio – Stevens and co-author Steven M. L. Aronson masterfully trace Avedon’s life from his birth to his death, in 2004, at the age of eighty-one, while at work in Texas for The New Yorker (whose first-ever staff photographer he had become in 1992). The story of his two failed marriages and the love affairs he kept hidden – Avedon was a man haunted by guilt – is told here for the first time.
The book contains startlingly candid reminiscences by Mike Nichols, Calvin Klein, Claude Picasso, Renata Adler, Brooke Shields, David Remnick, Naomi Campbell, Twyla Tharp, Jerry Hall, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bruce Weber, Cindy Crawford, Donatella Versace, Jann Wenner and Isabella Rossellini, among dozens of others.
Avedon: Something Personal is the confiding, compelling full story of a man who for half a century was an enormous influence on both high and popular culture, on both fashion and art – to this day he remains the only artist to have had not one but two retrospectives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during his lifetime. Not unlike Richard Avedon’s own defining portraits, the book delivers the person beneath the surface, with all his contradictions and complexities, and in all his touching humanity.
“It’s a good time, this book. There’s a feeling of arriving at a party where everyone is at least two drinks (and who knows what else) ahead of you, and the hostess has you by the arm and is barreling you into the thick of things, talking a mile a minute, catching you up on everyone’s hidden agendas, all before you’ve even shucked off your coat … Gobbets of gossip tucked into every scene and wild happenings in the corner of your eye ... According to Stevens, he left the matter of telling the truth of his life to her. “Don’t be kind — I don’t want a tribute, I want a portrait,” he supposedly said. “Make me into an Avedon” … Stevens is most illuminating in her behind-the-scenes glimpses of the work … Stevens’s accounts of bygone media largesse seem less like dispatches from a different era than from a different planet entirely … The most intimate detail Stevens was conscripted to reveal was Avedon’s homosexuality. Stevens alone, of all his friends, knew of it … Avedon’s secretiveness might have scuttled a traditional biography, but it’s sidestepped with Stevens’s oral history approach. Everyone saw one side of him — but together the testimonies of his assistants, models and lovers add up to a mosaic of the man. The snapshots are affectionate and admiring, and the contradictions in them can give you whiplash.”
New York Times
“Exhilarating … Avedon is a whirlwind read, dropping names, exhibits, assignments, one-liners and wisecracks so fast I turned the 697 pages slightly breathless … Personal and affectionate Stevens’s memoir is intentionally subjective and personal. But it is not artless or slapdash. She frames it skilfully with Avedon’s first and last solo shows at the Metropolitan Museum in New York … This book is a fine memorial.”
Times Literary Supplement
“If you like tales of obsessive perfectionism and mercurial extravagance, then you'll never be bored with this lavishly illustrated verbal portrait of one of the 20th century’s photographic masters ... Intimate and dishy in its conversational tone, the book makes you feel as though you are nose to nose trading stories with a vivacious confidant, your most fabulous friend telling you unabashed and juicy truths ... Part oral history, part memoir, part biography, this roomy account fills in the renowned white space surrounding Avedon, a man who curated his reputation as carefully as he did his output, remaining relentlessly private even as he revealed the era’s most incandescent personalities in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, The New Yorker and more.”
“Something Personal can be seen as the memorial that never was, in that many of Avedon’s friends and team members who would have spoken at the service have written about their reminiscences of working and socialising with him.”
Business of Fashion