Last weekend, I received three vintage magazines in the mail from my favorite seller: two US Vogue (February 1993 and April 1993) and an issue of American Photo March/April 1994. The third is a special one because it was dedicated to the great Avedon.
I can’t even remember when was the first time I’ve heard of his name, but I have a memory of his images from decades past.
When I first searched for Twiggy, Penelope Tree and Veruschka online, I found out much later on that most of their dreamy photographs were taken by Avedon. Twiggy’s headshot with those insanely long lashes, Penelope Tree with the black Halston dress with that ornate metal neck detail, and Veruschka in that epic Great Fur Caravan.
No discussion of Avedon is complete without the Great Fur Caravan that was styled by Polly Mellen. This shoot for US Vogue October 15, 1966 is the stuff of legends and its cost was unparalleled. It was 26-page long, set on a winter landscape in Japan at the time where air travel cost a fortune.
It is nearly impossible to choose a favorite photo from that spread, but I was drawn to this photo of a bright red umbrella against the monochromatic black and white clothes and environment. It greatly made a mark on my mind that it influenced my choice of a giant red scarf /muffler from Myeongdong two years ago. I just thought it would look striking against the snow.
Ironically, the last photo in the feature was stripped of any fur. It was done in Avedon’s signature grayscale with Veruschka quite exposed. Quite graphic in today’s US Vogue’s standards, but back in Vreeland’s days, this was not an issue. (Notice also that they spell her name as Verushka as opposed to Veruschka?)
There is an exact issue for sale on Ebay now, but it costs US$ 174.99 plus $ 26 shipping! Its original price when first printed was 75 cents. Whoa! If only I can get my hands on that issue, it would be awesome. I just hope that one day, the same magazine would end up in my local Ebay and auction sites (or even better, in the thrift stores I frequent). So you can’t blame me when I got excited to see the American Photo issue on Avedon up for sale, and it discussed in detail Avedon’s methods.
One of the things I love most in these old magazines were the advertisements. When my mother used to bring back magazines from abroad to the Philippines, I’d remember an old Volvo car advertisement in it, and seeing the same marketing pitch on the car ads in this issue cracked me up a lot. It also has pages upon pages of old camera film advertisements. Oh, nostalgia.
In the letters to the editor section, there was one reader who had commented on the whereabouts of Kate Moss’ nipples that magically disappeared underneath her gauzy cropped top, to which the editor fondly credited a ‘state-of-the-art digital image-manipulation equipment’. We all know that it is just a fancier way of saying Adobe Photoshop nowadays.
Last week, I finished Annie Leibovitz’s book At Work and she expectedly acknowledged Avedon and Irving Penn’s influence in her photography, especially the former’s white backdrop and the latter’s gray. It was an interesting read and just like the Avedon feature, it also moved away from a fashion focus.
Perhaps, I have a greater appreciation of her older works (such as John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Queen Elizabeth) compared to what she does nowadays. Who could forget Demi Moore’s infamous pregnant magazine cover, which spawned a throng of pregnant cover photos and photo ops (i.e. Britney, Christina. Jessica, Claudia, Liya and a thousand others)? Surprisingly, she did not deem the photo to be a good portrait. If that was not a good portrait, what do we call, then, Muhammad Ali’s horrendous photo from Louis Vuitton’s Core Values campaign? It was just Photoshop gone wrong, as simple as that.
It’s nice seeing very old photos. Sometimes, I imagine what the subject did after that particular frame was taken, what conversation transpired, or was there even a burst of laughter after posing awkwardly. I often get lost looking closely at photos to imagine things. But alas, photography is a costly hobby, though reading Leibovitz’s assertion of equipment as secondary was very inspiring.