Minneapois Institute of Arts
New Pictures at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

ENTRY POSTED May 15, 2012

Avedon: Portrait & Dialogue

What is a portrait?  Richard Avedon, who would have been 89 years old today, worked with his sitters to engage their persona.  He said people often came to him to be photographed “as they would go to a doctor or fortune teller”:  to learn about themselves.  When he photographed his father, then age 83, portraying him as “still fantastically vibrant and hungry and angry and alive” rather than wise,  Avedon didn’t want to show the pictures to his dad, fairly certain he wouldn’t like them.  “My photographs show his impatience—I love that quality in him—but seeing it would frighten him. [...] He’s much more interested in looking sage, so my sense of what’s beautiful is very different from his.’”

Beyond that familial exchange, Avedon was cognizant that a sitter and photographer may have different visions of the final product. Varied perspectives on portraiture originate, perhaps, from a different understanding of the role of the person behind the lens.  Former MIA curator Ted Hartwell mused, “The tradition of the portrait as a kind of monument or idealization is an attempt to portray that person in the way they would like to be seen, whereas [Avedon] is very forthright. [...looking] honestly and directly at things that make us typically uncomfortable.”


 Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe, Actress, May 6th, 1957
The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund


Avedon was certainly aware of the position of the photographer as a subjective intermediary with judgment and biases. He believed a “portrait is not a likeness. The moment a motion or fact is transformed into a photograph, it is no longer a fact, but opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate, but none of them are true.”


This image is presented as a “thumbnail” because it is protected by copyright. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts respects the rights of artists who retain the copyright to their work

Jen Dolen, Photography & New Media intern

Category: Inside Stories of the Collection


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