Advertisements are rarely memorable, but you probably remember when Calvin Klein was selling fragrances and jeans with a revolutionary campaign in the ’80s and ’90s, with James King speaking candidly about her friend’s suicide or Kate Moss choosing a screaming fight over indifference. What you may not know is those ads featured the models’ own words and experiences, a hallmark of the profound 60-year career of iconic photographer Richard Avedon.
“He really worked with each model and retained their authenticity by interviewing them beforehand and using their own words and dialogue in what would become an advertisement,” says James Kaliardos, makeup artist and co-curator of Richard Avedon – Moving Image, a free exhibit now on display at SoHo’s Cadillac House through Sept. 30. “Everyone from Catherine Deneuve to Lauren Hutton, Anjelica Huston, Andie MacDowell, Brooke Shields, they all were in these ads, but the ads were really crafted around their individuality as opposed to erasing who they were.”
The ads were a result of extensive interviews, which Kaliardos and his co-curator Cecilia Dean, who worked with Avedon as a model, unearthed from the Richard Avedon Foundation’s archives. These candid chats are part of the exhibit, along with still photos, books and short films.
“I worked with Richard Avedon in the last 10 years of his life, and he showed me some of these videos, but I didn’t know all of them,” Kaliardos says. “It’s just fascinating that he took time to do it.”
Not to be missed is the short film starring Veruschka von Lehndorff, who utterly captivates as she appears first in a suit and mustache as a man, then piece by piece sheds the ensemble until she’s naked, then transforms again into the softest feminine form for a 1973 ad campaign by Japanese apparel brand Jun Ropé.
Visitors can also flip through books of Avedon’s work, with images you’ve probably already seen but don’t associate with him — Dovima with the Elephants, Deneuve’s textless Chanel No. 5 ads from 1972 — and techniques that brought more natural elements to photoshoots for the first time, like wind machines and jumping.
Still, Kaliardos wishes the industry would embrace more of what made Avedon’s work unique.
“He would fight for different types of beauties to be seen,” says Kaliardos, noting that Avedon sought out people who may be overlooked in the current faster-paced world where ad campaigns often go with who’s already known and popular.“I hope visitors walk away with a sense of how important individuality is, and that it should be celebrated.”