Two seminal bodies of photography by one of the great American portraitists of the 1960s and ’70s soon will be on display in Philadelphia.
Richard Avedon: Family Affairs will open on April 1 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in that city.
The two projects include Allen Ginsberg’s family, Paterson, New Jersey, May 3, 1970, and a Rolling Stone portfolio of 69 portraits called The Family, taken in the run-up to the 1976 presidential election.
Among the latter are portraits of Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Mark Felt (a.k.a Deep Throat), Jerry Brown, Katherine Graham, and Bella Abzug. All are intimate glimpses into the personas of powerful people, for which Avedon was famous.
“He was masterful at finding and capturing the individual and the individuality of each subject,” says Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at the museum. “His incredible skills allowed him to see his subjects, whether the president or the nephew of Allen Ginsberg, in the essence of their humanity.”
Those 69 portraits of 73 people were commissioned by Rolling Stone’s editor and publisher, Jann Wenner, to document the beginning of the 1976 presidential campaign. It quickly grew into something else – and something much more incisive.
“It evolved into a larger study of American power – of the political actors, the social actors and the economic actors of 1976,” he says. “But it’s also a retrospective – it feels like you’re looking at the political power of the nation, 200 years into our country’s life.”
The images – most on loan from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem – are complemented with others on loan from the Avedon Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. Also stitched into the exhibit is unseen documentary film footage by D. A. Pennebaker, taken during a shoot in 1964 at McCann Erickson, the global marketing firm.
Pennebaker, of course, filmed Bob Dylan in the definitive documentary, Don’t Look Back, in 1967. So a film on Avedon from a Madison Avenue ad agency seems the perfect fit for this vivid collection of telling images of American power during the 1960s and ’70s.
Allen Ginsberg’s Family, Paterson, New Jersey, May 3, 1970. Photograph by Richard Avedon. © The Richard Avedon Foundation. From the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Gift of the American Contemporary Art Foundation, Leonard A. Lauder, President, to American Friends of the Israel Museum.
All individual portraits by Richard Avedon. © The Richard Avedon Foundation. From the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Joint gift of Gagosian Gallery and the American Contemporary Art Foundation, Leonard A. Lauder, President, to American Friends of the Israel Museum.