And if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible.
- Richard Avedon (1970)
Recently, I went to the SF Moma to see the Avedon exhibit and happily got my photography fix. It’s amazing how in our daily lives we’re mostly scanning, glancing, gawking, judging, zoning out…but not taking much in. So I’m particularly fond of portraiture and street photography for capturing those micro moments, gestures, and expressions that we often miss in everyday life. I love to be able to sit with these images and look without feeling the kind of self consciousness that happens when observing people in real life. To be completely absorbed by a photograph and transported to another place and moment in time is an uncanny sensation that for me, can be stimulating, meditative, disturbing, even enlightening.
At the Avedon exhibit, I finally had a chance to see his famous photo of Marilyn Monroe. Though I’ve seen the image in reproductions, the large format creates a particularly moving experience. With her slumped shoulders and wounded expression, you’re confronted with her vulnerability. It feels like a violation – as though you’re breaching this intimate space. And yet, she seems to have willingly surrendered – dropping any masks or defenses.
For the story behind the photo session with Marilyn, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Avedon: “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s—she did Marilyn Monroe.” (And later) ”there was the inevitable drop … she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone…I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.”
What was the last photograph you saw that really moved you?