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From glossy fashion to the world we live in: The iconic images of Richard Avedon

A double-take portrait of Francis Bacon shot by Richard Avedon in 1979.

By Elis Kiss

Henry Moore’s hand speaks of the sculptor in a 1963 photograph, while a double-take portrait of Francis Bacon from 1979 comes as a reflection of the painter’s own fragmented oeuvre. The images, shot by acclaimed photographer Richard Avedon, are iconic: They define their era, the sitters and the person orchestrating them behind the lens.

Spanning several decades, Avedon’s exploration of the world we live in – from glossy fashion to hard news – highlights time and place through the artist’s signature perspective. Avedon’s work in the fashion industry, for instance, defined a generous portion of the 20th century’s sophistication and changing perceptions: “Dovima with Elephants,” a photograph of the American model clad in haute couture (the gown was designed by Yves Saint Laurent for the house of Dior) and posing with the animals at the Cirque d’Hiver in 1955, is an emblematic image executed with precision following the arrangement of a highly elaborate mise-en-scene, while a Calvin Klein Jeans campaign featuring 15-year-old Brooke Shields remains a perennial image of casual American style.

Born in New York City in 1923, the artist began his professional career in 1942 in the US Merchant Marine Photographic Department and attended the Design Laboratory at the New School for Social Research. He subsequently joined Harper’s Bazaar before moving to rival Vogue, along with Diana Vreeland. In 1992 Avedon was appointed the first staff photographer at The New Yorker.

The photographer, who died in 2004, founded the Richard Avedon Foundation, an archive of his photos, negatives, publications and other material.

“I function more as an editor. In other words, I could draw people out, maybe in the way a director does with a performer, and bring them into the circle of creative work,” Avedon said.

At Gagosian Athens, a 1948 photograph depicting a fur-trimmed, naturally creased leather shoe by Perugia worn by a model walking along a street in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background juxtaposes French elegance against a touch of reality. A 1955 image of Dovima wearing a Balenciaga hat and looking out of a car window is about glamour sprinkled with a hint of mystery. Striking a pose in Dior couture in 2000, top models Malgosia Bela and Gisele Bundchen portray the state of the industry in the 21st century.

In an era of fast fashion defined by speedy, accessible-to-all online viewing, a good look at Avedon’s images reminds audiences of a not-so-long-ago time of elegant individuality – both in front of and behind the camera.

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Gagosian Gallery, 3 Merlin, Kolonaki, Athens, tel 210.364.0215, www.gagosian.com. To July 25. 

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