JERUSALEMJames Snyder, Director of the Israel Museum, shares some thoughts about the current Richard Avedon show, which showcases an important gift of Avedon portraits. 74 portraits are the first works by Avedon to enter the Israel Museum's collection.

Photograph by Richard Avedon. Allen Ginsberg's family: Hannah (Honey) Litzky, aunt; Leo Litzky, uncle; Abe Ginsberg, uncle; Anna Ginsberg, aunt; Louis Ginsberg, father; Eugene Brooks, brother; Allen Ginsberg, poet; Anne Brooks, niece; Peter Brooks, nephew; Connie Brooks, sister-in-law; Lyle Brooks, nephew; Eugene Brooks; Neal Brooks, nephew; Edith Ginsberg, stepmother; Louis Ginsberg; Paterson, New Jersey, May 3, 1970. Printed in 1993. Silver gelatin print, 96 x 240 inches, edition of 3. © The Richard Avedon Foundation.

What is special about the two projects on view in your current exhibition Richard Avedon: Family Affairs? 

The two projects on view are an exploration of Avedon’s highly innovative approach to portrait photography in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The first project showcases his large-format portrait of Allen Ginsberg’s family in the context of all four small-format versions of Avedon’s iconic group portraits from this period. 

The second project being the complete edition of The Family, which is Avedon’s interpretation of the key players in America’s Great Society, commissioned by Rolling Stone Magazine. 

Shirley Chisholm, U.S. Congresswoman (New York), New York, July 12, 1976, from The Family, Rolling Stone Portfolio, 1976. Printed in 1976. Silver gelatin print, 14 x 11 inches, edition of 25. © The Richard Avedon Foundation.

The Israel Museum's photography holdings are extremely wide-reaching. What does the Avedon gift mean for the museum? 

The Israel Museum was one of the first museums internationally to establish a department of photography, and its collection has grown to over 75,000 images ranging from vintage 19th century European and American material, through the canon of classic modernist photography, to contemporary examples. The group of Avedon’s works just acquired represents the impressive concentration of his achievement as a portrait photographer. They are also the first works by Avedon to enter the Museum’s collection, giving them an especially important meaning for us.  

Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, Washington, D.C., May 7, 1976, from The Family, Rolling Stone Portfolio, 1976. Printed in 1976. Silver gelatin print, 14 x 11 inches, edition of 25. © The Richard Avedon Foundation.

What do you personally find powerful in Avedon's works? 

Avedon’s work from this period really re-defined portraiture in photography—in a way diminishing the centrality of the subject while at the same time, through his intensely personal approach to his treatment of each subject, imbuing each with that much greater power and dignity. 

What do you hope your visitors will take away from this display? 

An appreciation for how the photographer’s eye can imbue portraiture with a depth of meaning well beyond the simple framing of a subject before a camera lens.

Rose Mary Woods, secretary to President Richard Nixon, Washington, D.C., August 10, 1975, from The Family, Rolling Stone Portfolio, 1976. Printed in 1976. Silver gelatin print, 14 x 11 inches, edition of 25. © The Richard Avedon Foundation.

Richard Avedon: Family Affairs
25 March–26 July
Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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