Do you know Dick?
Dick Avedon, that is.
Or more politely said: Mr. Richard Avedon.
For many of us he was simply AVEDON.
Avedon was one of my first photography teachers.
In 1965 a «life changing form» was enclosed in the middle of Popular Photography magazine. I filled it out and applied to the «Famous Photographers School of Photography». With the document, I sent a half dozen black and white prints, believing I would not be accepted.
Following are the names of a few of these FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHERS:
Irving Penn, Bert Stern, Ezra Stoller, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Richard Beattie, Philippe Hallsman, Harry Garfield, Richard Avedon.
The Course Cost 800$ U.S.
A few months later, after mailing the form and prints, I received a visit from a man who represented the Famous Photographers School of Photography. Two images I had taken of my girlfriend (who later became my wife) had caught the attention of the teachers. That same day I signed up with the School and was remitted a series of books that covered many subjects from, editorial, travel, portrait, architecture, wedding, fashion, darkroom, film processing, etc. One binder was a homework assignment book. Once I had completed an assignment, I sent my B&W prints and negatives by mail to New York to be appraised by the teacher-photographer who would send me back the material with the results. I then continued on to the next assignment.
I admired Avedon’s work but I also appreciated his attitude vis-à-vis portraiture and picture taking. In the introduction to a book he did on the faces of the American West, Avedon said: « A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or a fact is transformed into a photograph, it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.»
Don Winslow, editor of News Photographer magazine, said it was hard to say what was Avedon's greatest work as «he kept surpassing himself with everything he ever did. He worked with this huge crate of a camera that allowed him to fulfill his vision. He had a minimal approach; the backgrounds were white or gray. The lighting was straight on. He had his subject confront the camera but the subject was really confronting the photographer.»
The Whitney museum story….
In 1994, I read in a Montreal newspaper that Richard Avedon was having an exhibition at the Whitney museum. I immediately decided to drive to New York City as it was the last weekend of Avedon's exhibition.
On the Saturday, Avedon was doing book signings. I took my place at the back of the long line of people and waited nervously. When my turn came up, I presented the EVIDENCE book and as he was signing it I said: « Mister Avedon, you were one of my first teachers.» He knew what I was talking about. « Yes, to bad, the School went bankrupt but I still have those books and I refer to them now and then». I thanked him and went to visit the exhibition.
On the Sunday, the last day of the show, I returned to the Whitney. At one point, while I was in the room where the large prints of the «The Chicago Seven» were exhibited, I saw a man with long white hair walking rapidly to the next room, he was followed by a group of people rushing behind him. I immediately thought of a dragon with its long tail.
I walked into the room where the dragon had entered. There he was, Mr. Avedon! Sitting on a wooden crate, signing books and answering questions. I was the only one in the room with a camera or maybe I was the only one who defied the sign on the wall indicating «No photos allowed.».
He seemed to find my behavior disturbing, but remembering his teachings in those Famous Photographers book, I kept taking photos: « A moment in time that will never happen again ».
When I returned to Montreal, I processed the B&W film and made a series of prints of those moments in the Whitney.
Like I had done in 1965, I sent the prints to Mr. Richard Avedon's studio. Expecting no answer in return.
But, low and behold, similar to 30 years before, my teacher sent me back a reply in a form of a wonderful letter saying: « Dear Carl Valiquet. Thank you so much for the photographs. I will treasure them for always.»
The day I received Avedon's letter, I felt the circle had been completed.
Mr. Richard Avedon passed away on October 1, 2004.
His shadow is still following me.
His spirit lives on,
and I often say to myself when I look at some of my images:
«what would Dick think of this?».
To learn more about my teacher, please go the following links:
Thought of the day