Avedon "uber alles" say fashionistas as expo hits Milan

MILAN, Feb 18, 2008 (AFP) - A retrospective of works by US photographer Richard Avedon has taken Milan fashion week by storm, with pundits prophesying that the man who breathed life and soul into glamour will remain an icon.

More than 200 works representing Avedon's over 50-year career are on show, spanning royalty, statesmen, film stars and top models to hobos, truckers and oil workers.


Photo of Richard Avedon

"Richard Avedon is a true genius of photography and one of the greatest artists of our time," said Donatella Versace, creative director of the house of Versace, which is co-sponsoring the show.

"With Richard, photography became a true art form," she said.

Avedon, who worked on Versace campaigns in the 1990s, was best known for transforming models from mere clothes horses into real people with emotions, spirit and character.

Destroying picture postcard icons, Avedon challenged the public persona of subjects like the late Duchess of Windsor, born plain Wallis Warfield, for whom former British king Edward VIII renounced a throne and the sprawling empire that came with it.

A brutally honest portrait of the couple taken in 1957 shows the duchess shorn of her customary baubles and revealing a deeply lined, scrawny neck.

Her consort -- once the world's most eligible bachelor -- gazes deeply into the camera with watery eyes and a face tinged with sadness and seeming nostalgia.

And 60s sex icon Marilyn Monroe is captured looking pensive and vulnerable all at once, not the coquettish star who set hearts aflame.

"Richard Avedon has become a social commentary and will remain relevant for all time," gushed Bandana Tewari, fashion features director for Vogue's Indian avatar.

"The shot does not end when it is taken," she said, adding: "We are now bombarded with so much imagery and portraiture and this exhibition helps one undestand where and how it all began."

Avedon's models included the hottest names in the fashion world, from 1960s pin-ups like Jean Shrimpton and the waif-like Twiggy, to supermodels several generations apart, such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington.

Somewhere along the way, he managed to capture for posterity a slew of American presidents, rock stars, writers, poets, artists and tramps.

Such was his fame that celebrities like ballet great Rudolf Nureyev did not mind taking off their kit for him.

Others allowed him to gently cock a snook.

British designer John Galliano is captured looking like a satyr with heavy eye make-up while comic legend Charlie Chaplin -- photographed when he was hounded in the US as a suspected communist -- holds two fingers on the sides of his head to resemble the devil's horns.

"Richard Avedon is one of those rare photographers who inspired fashion designers," said Shunichi Mugita from the Japanese edition of the respected trade journal Women's Wear Weekly.

"Other photographers have tried to reach his level but it is very difficult," he said.

Born into a Russian-Jewish family in New York in 1923, Avedon worked for top-notch publications such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue and collaborated with famed writers like James Baldwin and Truman Capote for a series of coffee table books.

He also served as a visual consultant for the 1957 Hollywood film "Funny Face" in which Fred Astaire plays a fashion photographer -- modelled on Avedon -- who woos Audrey Hepburn in Paris.

A documentary showing at the exhibition reveals Avedon's personal trauma and the secret behind a sequence of photographs of his father taken during the last days of an uphill battle with cancer.

Avedon says in the documentary that he had tried -- unsuccessfully throughout his life -- to reach out to his aloof parent who appeared disapproving of his son's profession.

"It had to do with my way of trying to reach out to him and tell him who I was," says Avedon, who died in 2004 while on assignment for The New Yorker magazine. "I loved him but we never spoke the same language."

By Abhik Kumar Chanda

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