The trouble with Garry...

During my undergrad studies in photography (as in many photography programs across the nation), many professors site Garry Winogrand's work, and many students aspire to emulate his style...and rightfully so...

But there was always something about Winogrand's work that never quite sat right with me. At times I thought it was part of my passive/aggressive rebellious nature to be the anti-thesis of whatever was being revered at the moment (it makes up my devil's advocacy work) and at times I thought it simply was that street photography was never my comfort nor style and I was being dismissive of it in order to make myself feel better about the fact that I'n not good at it. However it was years later that I started to realize what it was that actually bothered me about Garry Winogrand's work and I am still somewhat surprised to never have come across any critique of it from the standpoint in which I view his images. 

I have to emphasize that Garry Winogrand is author to a lot of great images, A LOT! he was very prolific and very proficient, but there is one small component that sticks to me like a thorn on my side and this is especially evident in his portfolio Women Are Beautiful. 

Published in 1975

The problem is not so much the title of the book which could stand for a sly euphemism considering it was published during the height of the female liberation movement, but the problem is actually the images inside (and other similar ones he took) that underscore the portfolio's sexism. 

One well known image from that portfolio is this one….

At first it may seem innocent enough, true to the style of ‘street photography’

it has its language of the snapshot aesthetic in place. But like with many photographs, upon a closer inspection one begins to decipher as to how and why it must have been created which at times unravel the persona and personality of the image’s creator. 

We see a young woman, crossing a street and walking directly towards us. The image is taken not from a face-to-face level but rather from a higher level looking slightly down at her and establishing a unconscious hierarchy and control over the subject from the photographer/viewer point of view. She appears diminutive because of this and despite her (nervous?) smile, her body language suggests she is not comfortable at being photographed. 

It is written that Winogrand was not a shy person to say the least (nor do I think you can be in order to be a successful street photographer) but rather bearish in person and somewhat egotistical in personality. Although the subject is not looking at the camera, we know that given the way this image was taken, she had to be very much aware of the photographer's presence. Yet we must conclude that this image was taken without her permission, if she had agreed to be photographed in this candid form one would guess she would at least look into the lens. 

Her averting gaze suggests otherwise. Now if this were the only case, one can overlook this intrusion, but perusing through his book, one encounters this dynamic over and over again.

For example, in the following three images, the subject still had to be aware they were going to be photographed (This was at a time after all, when people actually looked at where they were going and not at their smart phones) considering the photographer would have been directly in front of them with a camera held up to his eye.

And again the averted gaze speaks volumes.

But lets give this all the benefit of the doubt and say that the subject at hand did not notice the photographer and therefore was not using their averted gaze to dissuade the photographer from taking their picture, afterall there are many instances that the subject isn't truly aware of the camera.

So then lets asks ourselves, what is his intent with this images under the context of 'women are beautiful'?

Is it me, or do you also see a reoccurring theme front and center?
Even when the subject shares equal status with a male counterpart (as in the one directly above), the focus of the light does not make the intent ambiguous.

And just in case, we think Winogrand is simply trying to just show women as beautiful and independent creatures, we come across these images....

The focus is not apparently on ALL women and their individual beauty but rather on the younger sexualized woman in the group. Winogrand's composition in putting the main subject front and center exposes his intent.

Now, I really do not know what was the critical response to this book when it came out, but I can assure you that no photography program in this country today would allow this work to develop as it did. Not only it is narrow and limited in its subject scope and investigation, it can also be critiqued (in my opinion) as racist and ageist besides blatantly sexist. There is hardly any evidence of the ‘subject’ diverting from being young, white and objectified sexually.

To think that he is known as a "portraying the social issues of his time" seems like an overstatement (or perhaps I am viewing these with contemporary eyes). This is America in the early 1970’s. Where is the evidence of the female empowerment taking place? Can it be simply demonstrated in the women's style of dress? Where is the racial and cultural diversity? You would be hard pressed to find a proportional amount of African-americans or Hispanics in relation to caucasians in the book. In New York City of all places! 

I have to wonder if this is just one of the many cases in history in which notoriety trumped reality? Was this accepted because Winogrand had the support of academia? (he was gifted the prestigious Guggenheim several times) and by the time he produced these images he had already established himself. Or is it simply an accepted norm and oversight of the times? Again, it is not to say that he didn’t create images that belong in the canon of photographic history but in my book his name comes with an asterisk.


Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Felix Gonzalez-Torres is perhaps the artist who most influences my work (or at least is in the back of my mind) and this image is the first of his I ever came across. 

One of his better known photographic images: a rumpled bed with two pillows. The image is relatively boring in a conventional sense especially for one you would expect to see on a billboard, but like most of Felix's work you need to know a little bit about it before you can truly assess it.

As part of his Billboard project, this image was displayed on several billboards across the city simultaneously (in this case NYC). This was done way back in the Middle Ages when there was no such thing as the internet (or at least it was in its infancy)...and it was also during a time when GLBT lifestyles were relatively invisible (especially to mainstream America).  Yet with this work he delicately touches upon two highly charged issues that will be part of a national discourse for the next twenty-plus years (and still is today).

The first being the distinction between the public vs. the private, something that will become increasingly blurred and obsolete with the ubiquity of the internet. By displaying an image of the bed he shared with his then recently-deceased partner, Ross, via a highly visible and commercial venue, it begins to question the boundaries between the public and the private... and more specifically to FG-T's intent, the role of government and society in our personal lives.

The second issue this work touches upon is the collective idea of a conjugal bed.

By displaying what is in all actuality an illicit scene (The U.S. Supreme Court had yet to strike down the laws that made same-sex sexual activity legal in the country and would not do so until 12 years later) the viewer is left to ponder the illegality and harm of such a serene site.

This image is not the graphic representation of a criminalized sexual act but a gentle reminder that an expression of love goes beyond the act of sex and unites us all in its commonality regardless of orientation.

You would be hard pressed to find someone that considers this image perverse and offensive regardless of political or religious leanings, yet this image is evidence of the most intimate and personal site of a relationship (in this case same-sex).

It is a tribute to love and loss while existing as a highly-charged political statement.


Law of Desire (La Ley del Deseo) 1987

One of Almodovar's early films and arguably one of his best. It is not so much a 'gay' movie but one that can apply collectively to the universal subject of love and desire. Of course, as with many of Almodovar's story-telling,  this is not your typical story of love, but the more obsessive, all-consuming and self-destructive version, the type of passionate love you wish you would be a part of but glad it hasn't happened to you. It could perhaps be compared in plot to the American film Fatal Attraction. But instead of fearing the obsessiveness of an emotionally unhinged one-night-stand you actually feel sympathetic and understanding of the stalker's motives despite his actions.

Almodovar's genius can be seen not only in the beautifully shot imagery full of color and  layered simplicity but it his writing and wit as well. He is truly a master in his craft, referencing Hollywood classics alongside current parallels, his cleverly chooses music to accompany his visuals. He chose a song performed by a long-forgotten Mexican trio from the 1950s, Los Panchos. Here he superimposes the song's plucking of guitar strings with the pounding of typewriter keys as if to insinuate that what is being written is what is being heard, the lyrics to the song become a surrogate to dialogue. But where Almodovar truly shines (and not just in this film) is with his original screenplay, always rendering an out-of-the-ordinary story with an unexpected outcome. He interweaves comedy and suspense, love and fear, camp and drama seamlessly from one scene to another and with every plot twist and turn. In Law of Desire, he plays with your perception and understanding of sex and sexuality by casting Carmen Maura (a famous Spanish actress) as a transexual woman longing for love and normalcy and an actual transexual actress as a heterosexual mother seeking to break free from the binding responsibility of parenting. Ms. Maura gives an Oscar worthy performance capturing the mixed emotions of a tortured soul celebrating the liberating freedom of gender reassignment with a desperate need for love and acceptance. 

Considering this movie was made in 1987 when many of the subject matter in this film was not only misunderstood but also taboo establishes it as both innovative and groundbreaking. But what is most surprising is the realization that it received wide distribution and acclaim in its country of origin, it had been less than 20 years that Spain had been released from the shackles of the righteous four-decade long dictatorship of General Franco, and this movie's mainstream acceptance in a country with strong Catholic heritage just shows the level of liberal cultural revolution Spain was going through at the time. You would be hard pressed to find a movie similar in plot to be made in the United States even today....lo dudo (I doubt it)!


Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender

I originally wrote this review in April 2011. One star out of five.

If you are interested in examining gay subtext during Hollywood's Golden Age, avoid this documentary and watch the much better researched and entertaining Celluloid Closet instead. 

Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender reads more like a lecture than an analysis and quickly loses all its credibility with highly edited dialogue taken out of context and freeze-framed montages peppered with disputable readings. To suggest that Walter Brennan's character in Westerns was a thinly veiled homo-erotic romance with John Wayne is a stretch of the imagination, you have to be really horny to sense any erotic tension between the old geyser and the neutered cowboy. Rappaport confuses Hollywood's use of the pansy in the 1930's and Bob Hope cross-dressing antics as some sort of social code of acceptance when in fact it served more as a reinforcement of strict gender roles through cheap laughs. He erroneously states the Lumiere Brothers' early stock footage of men dancing was a nod to homosexuality when in fact it was just a product of a homosocial society. Men danced together because men and women did not socially interact during the late Victorian era. Same as why the male buddy system in movies during the mid-20th century was in place, women were considered either femme fatales or vestal virgins and neither shared anything in common with male identity not because women weren't desired. Male-bonding is an embodiment of moral society's way of keeping the sexes separate, just because guys seek to hang out together watching football and avoid their wives doesn't mean they want to hump each other. Rappaport reuses clips from a few movies to make sweeping generalizations and merges the intent of a movie's written character with the rumored lifestyle of the actor playing it. There is enough pseudo-psychoanalytical erroneous hypothesis in these 100 minutes to give Freud a headache when the real truth is probably closer to a director's internalized homophobia surfacing as delusional validation. His thesis seems to be saying, it must be okay to be gay only because everyone else is gay too.....color that self-hating.


Small Town Gay Bar

A rather weak documentary on an important yet under-examined topic. This film highlights how homophobia is alive and well in rural america, however the documentary only focuses on a small section of the Bible Belt (Northeast Mississippi) and the couple of gay bars that exist in the area. It would have been interesting to see how the people in these scenarios differ, if at all, from other rural areas in the country or from larger cities within the Bible Belt. The documentary quickly glides by a horrific case of hate crime in the area and the tribulations that the LGBT community has to endure to survive and mostly focuses on the management, state and status of said bars. However this documentary is still a must see if not simply as a reminder on how homosexuals are still relegated to living in danger and rejection in order to live out their desires (something that is taken for granted by the same community in metropolitan cities). What's is even more scarier to comprehend is to see an actual neo-con religious group in the area that targets G.W.Bush as being too liberal and lenient on alternative lifestyle.


Sordid Lives (The Movie)

Review was originally written in June 6, 2010 and refers to the movie, but the same strengths and weaknesses applies to the LOGO television series of the same name aas well.

A hilariously funny movie interspersed with painfully bad scenes. Del Shores wrote and directed his theatrical play's transition onto the big screen (and the television series that followed), and while its low budget gives it an early John Water's look and feel, it fails in its conflicted direction. The film shines with the over-the-top portrayals of southern women in a small Texan town. Beth Grant's attempt to quit smoking and Bonnie Bedelia's obsession with big hair and neighborly gossip are the true gem of the movie. These laugh-out-loud movements are even more enjoyable because of its true-to-life characterization (as can be attested by anyone growing up in the South). It is a shame that these scenes are scattered with really bad acting regarding its 'coming out' story line. Those scenes in particular are played with a mix of over-acted intensity and self-conscious foolishness and threatens to bring the whole movie down with it. (This storyline also ruins the LOGO series, the fact the character was re-casted with Del Shores then real-life boyfriend further taints it with a tinge of nepotism that only highlights the bad acting). In the end it reads as if Mr. Shores was giving us two sides to story-telling. On one side you have the heartwarming, sidesplittingly funny craziness of southern life played to the hilt by solid actors and on the other a painfully preachy and forced coming out story that is mis-casted as well. This is not to say that it shouldn't have been included but perhaps treated with the same approach and touch as with the rest of the movie. 
The cast between the movie and the television series is mostly the same except for a few changes, namely Delta Burke's character played by Caroline Rhea and the addition of Rue McClanahan (not pictured) in the series.


The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green

This movie made in 2005 is based on the syndicated comic strip by Eric Orner which appeared in many LGBT publications during the 1990's. I wrote originally wrote the review in January 2009.

Unfortunately, the movie is less dimensional than the comic strip, the acting and plot feels amateurish and dated. Perhaps if it had come to be in the early 1990's during the raise of independent films and the burgeoning post-AIDS era alternative lifestyle it wouldn't have felt new and fresh but by 2005 the storyline is overplayed alongside the token interracial lesbian couple. 

You can find better acting and a more engaging storyline in a porn movie, at least with pornography you have a valid reason to watch it.

There is little chemistry between the two love interests and the token interracial lesbian couple seems stereotypical.


The Kids Are All Right

A light-hearted adult comedy, I first saw this movie while visiting Philadelphia in the summer of 2010. I was looking for much needed relief from the heat wave that was hitting the city at the time in a dark air-conditioned locale. The movie was funny and heartwarming without pandering. 
Review originally written in July 2010. Five out of five stars.

A funny light-hearted adult comedy, well-written and superbly acted (especially by Ms. Bening who is a joy to see hasn't succumb to the cosmetic knife). Not everyone will be pleased with this indie sleeper hit since it is not a slap-stick roll-in-the-aisle comedy but one that relies on smart dialogue and recognizable moments in human relations, instead it is more apt to just make you smile throughout. What is truly refreshing about this movie is realizing that this unconventional family is anything but...the familial relationship is as banal and ordinary as any other. The parents fret about the kids and the kids just want to be left alone to discover their own identity. However, the parents are lesbians that are as sexual and loving as any heterosexual counterpart in a 20-year relationship, along with the misunderstandings, concerns and misgivings that come with the territory. I was personally a bit disappointed that the impetus to move the characters into self-realization had to do with an extra-marital affair in which (SPOILER-ALERT) a lesbian sleeps with a heterosexual man. Unfortunately this might add fodder to many who are dismissive of lesbianism as merely women in need of men, but I was glad that it was treated properly and the outcome was realistic. In the end, it shows the commonality in family dynamics regardless of its make up. When the kids shout their hatred to their lesbian moms and voice how sick they are of their unconventionality, it is not because same-sex parenting doesn't work but rather because they are simply teenagers rebelling against parental control. Ultimately everyone realizes how important a loving nucleus is once it becomes threatened. 


Naked Fame

Originally reviewed in March of 2010, I rated this movie 2 out of 5 stars.

I don't know whether you need to be familiar with the subject to this unstructured documentary to be remotely interested. On the one hand, you might have to be a fan of his work to be invested but on the other hand watching the protagonist behave like a spoiled brat might destroy any attraction to the persona you previously had. Regardless, this documentary ends up becoming not so much a study on someone but rather more an observation on a self-obsessive culture. It appears that despite a loving relationship and a supportive family we still are unfulfilled without fame. 

Peter, a 'former' porn star known as Colton Ford and his partner, another former porn star, are very likable guys who want to leave the adult film industry and follow their dreams of becoming a singer and actor respectively. Problem is those careers are within the shadow of the Hollywood lifestyle the porn industry emulates. They seek a whole new world far away from what they have done in the past but don't go beyond their backyard to find it. One example is Colton's choice for a manager. He hires another former-porn star who is all too obviously on something (my guess is its the 'legal' speed he keeps offering everyone) and continuously ignores the neon sign over his manager's head that reads 'train wreck approaching'. 

Yet despite any talent, Colton seems to purposely situate himself on a losing battle to be the kind of singing sensation he wants to be. For one, he concentrates only on club/dance music which is dominated by female vocalists, secondly, he is in his late 30s and wants to market himself to a young early 20s crowd, and finally, he keeps one foot in the door to his previous and highly stigmatized career even though he no longer wants to be associated with it. You can't help but begin to wonder whether his desire to be a singer is just a whim or an actual passion and not just a vacuous reason to be admired. Midpoint through this documentary, despite being sympathetic to his challenges, you want to slap him senselessly (and not in the porn film sort of way) when he continually whines and complains as to why his singing career isn't going anywhere. 
Yes, because if you want to be taken seriously as a singer and not viewed as the porn star you once were,
be sure to play up your physique.

Perhaps he should concentrate on the MUSIC! Colton seems to work out in the gym more than on his vocal skills and nowhere in the documentary does it show him sitting down and concentrating on writing a lyric or two or even crafting his artistic stage persona (and from the likes of his performances here this is painfully evident). Instead he frets before a performance about which shirt he should wear (neither choice would have made a difference). Unfortunately he also suffers from tackyitis... he wears his casual street clothes onstage and relies on the ubiquitous and outdated dance moves of the mid-90s. Its going to be hard to be seen as a 'star' when your target audience dresses and dances better than you do. My unsolicited advice to him would be that if you want to stand out in any field you must first start by thinking outside the box. 


Brokeback Mountain

I wrote the following review in October 2007 for the movie Brokeback Mountain on Netflix as a response to reviews I was reading from viewers. I felt that some of those reviewers were missing the crux of the movie and some were bordering on homophobia. This was my response to them.

I found this movie to be a cinematic masterpiece and one whose style and content many reviewers in here (Netflix) may have missed the basis of. This movie goes beyond being a 'gay' movie into a movie that is collective in scope and leaves us with something to learn and take away from. In regards to the slow pace of the movie as some have complained, I think that it is was being purposefully used. The slow panning of the landscape not only depicts the sublime and expansive landscape but also helps to magnify the banality and mundaneness of small rural mid-western towns and Ennis' life in particular. The director Ang Lee, uses a similar tactic in the movie Ice Storm to create a palpable chill depicted through the weather and through the detachment of the characters' lives). Brokeback Mountain is not an 'agenda movie' trying to validate the deceit and actions of these men as some have suggested but rather to serve as evidence and reminder that living a double life is harmful not only to those you deceived but to those that do the deception as well. The women in this story are as much a victim of the rigid social conformity prevalent during that time as the men are. They are afflicted by the betrayal the men are consigned to create. 

This movie does not have a happy Hollywood ending nor can this story be sugar-coated. It instead leaves us with no consolation or resolution and makes us feel the regret and frustration of understanding oneself only when its too late. Unfortunately history is seen with 20/20 hindsight vision and in this post-Will and Grace society in which same-sex lifestyles are much more visible and tolerated than it ever has been, it is hard for us to situate ourselves at a time and place when gay men (and lesbians) had no role models nor narratives in which to live their lives by. This movie gives us an understanding of the actions of individuals during a time when their desire (homosexuality) was considered a pathological disease, their acceptance ('coming out') was a social death sentence, and their love (universal and whole) was riddled with guilt. These men and many like them were resigned into living their entire lives either denying their desires or fulfilling them in the dark shadows of shame.


Chris & Don: A Love Story (2007)

A touching and inspiring story of enduring love and same-sex relationship involving the writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy. 

The strength of this movie comes from actual photos and extensive footage from home movies and not so much on staged re-enactments that usually pepper documentaries of this nature. These home movies serve as a testament to a strong and happy (and controversial) relationship displayed alongside some of Hollywood and literary greats of the time. Both men are talented in their own right but the movie's true inspiration comes from seeing their courageous 30-year plus relationship lived out in the open during closeted times, and it is Don's actions and motivation during Christopher's death that expresses the true depth of their spiritual and emotional bond. 

Don Bachardy painting a life portrait of his partner Christopher Isherwood

However, it is hard to overlook the circumstances that might have contributed to the success of their love (and to its controversy). Their May-December relationship is disturbing when one realizes just how young Don was when he started dating Christopher and the effect this might have had on Don's own sense of self-worth and identity. This not only comes to the surface when Don admits to emulating Chris's mannerisms and speech but also in his admission to his constant need of approval from Christopher in even deciding what to wear. The fact that Christopher (through his writing) professes to be attracted only to those outside (and beneath) his blue-blood social class taints this relationship with an air of manipulation. Which is unfortunate, because what could be seen as a successful and validating gay relationship during times of adversity at times becomes tarred by seeming as subjugated love. 

Review originally written on 4/2/10


The month of June

June is national LGBT history month in the United States. This is usually designated annually by the President of the United States, so has been the case under the Obama administration and the Clinton administration before that, it was not designated as such during the G.W. Bush administration for obvious reasons.

The reason June is LGBT history month is because it commemorates the Stone Wall Riots which sparked the gay rights movement in this country and around the world. The Stone Wall Riots came about when patrons (mostly transvestites) of the Stone Wall Inn, a small bar on Christopher Street in the West Village of New York City, got fed up of the systematic and targeted police harassment and arrests and began a spontaneous retaliation that lasted a couple of nights. The 'riot' was not necessarily very destructive but was instrumental in bringing about the gay (LGBT) rights movement unto the national discourse which lasts still to this day.   

This is also why June is the month when most Pride parades take place in many cities in the country and in many countries around the world culminating in the one celebrated in NYC in the last Sunday of the month. Of course, as with everything, history gets lost in the generations that don't live through it, which is mostly why Pride parades are no longer the political demonstrations they started as and are more the jubilant activities they are today.

An interesting side-note, it is theorized that the reason the patrons where particularly intolerant of the police harassment on the fateful evening was because it was the day in which Judy Garland was laid to rest. Many patrons had supposedly gone to the bar to mourn and memorialize her. Judy Garland, was from no doing of her own, a gay iconic figure because many sympathized with her tumultuous life of continually being used and abused by lovers and producers alike. Her best known song 'Over the Rainbow' became the de facto anthem of longing for a place of acceptance to live ones happy life....somewhere (and someday)! 

The song is sometimes credited for the formation of the 'Rainbow' flag becoming the symbol for the movement. However, the person who designs it doesn't necessarily agree instead insists that the colors are representative of the diversity and scope of the beneficiaries of the movement. 

Anyway, in celebration of June of this year for no reason in particular, I will be re-posting reviews I have written in Netflix and blogs everywhere of movies whose characters, plots and or protagonists are of the LGBT community (mostly 'gay' and not always in a good light).


Massachusetts Cultural Council Photography Show at the New Art Center

A photographic exhibition featuring the works of some of the fellows and finalists of the Massachusetts Cultural Council 2013.


Personalities, A Portrait Show at SMFA gallery in Portland, Maine

This show came out of nowhere, I was contacted by Susan Maasch about including my series 'Guys and Dolls' with her group exhibition, Personalities.  I submitted twelve framed images which were exhibited in a grid form, alternating between G.I. Joes and Ken dolls.

The best part about being included in this show was traveling to Portland via train and staying overnight at Karen and Katherine's house.


Portrait work by Avedon

Okay, One more entry on Richard Avedon before its seems like I'm president of his fan club.

Like I mentioned earlier, Avedon was a successful fashion / commercial photographer but wanted to be considered an 'art' photographer as well. So besides doing beautiful images of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes, he also concentrated on making strong compelling portraits of famous people as a means to earn a certain kind of respect in that field (An interesting side note: his equally successful contemporary in the fashion photography world, Irving Penn, chose the genre of the still life instead).
Avedon's quest led him to take on an ambitious project when he traveled through the western United States and photographed regular people that caught his attention, this work culminated in an exhibition and book titled 'In the American West'. Both the book and exhibition were successful commercially and critically although it has been critically panned as well (more on why below) and helped further establish him as a household name.

Probably to differentiate his portrait work from his fashion work, Richard Avedon is known to have established a particular mode operandi to get the image that he wanted from his subject.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Waldorf Astoria, suite 28A, New York, April 16, 1957

The story goes that for the image above, Richard Avedon was telling the Duke and Duchess of an incident in which he saw a dog being hit by a car while he was heading over to the shoot. Knowing that the Duke and Duchess were avid dog-lovers, he was expecting them to have an adverse reaction to the story, making them lower their guard (the one everyone puts up when they know they are being photographed) and capture them with this look. What comes through is not one that contains the shield of a smile but one that is more raw and realistic and exposes the inner self.

Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957
We can assume that a similar thing happened here.  This is not the Marilyn Monroe persona Ms. Baker tried so hard to foster, but one in which shows her vulnerability as much as her cleavage. Gone is the tilted head thrown back with slightly opened lips and lowered eyelids that Ms. Baker used to suggest as a post-coitally satiated presence, instead we see her with slumped shoulders and lost in introspection. She appears diminutive and overpowered by the emptiness around her.

Maria Callas, coloratura soprano, New York, February 10, 1970
And here is Maria Callas. The look on her face does not feel like it comes from acting but rather from hurt and candor.

Don't get me wrong, I think these are wonderful images, some of my favorite actually, but I just can't help but wonder what the subject's reaction was to them. Here is a person about to be photographed by a photographer who makes utterly beautiful images working with the most beautiful models of the time and he makes you look sad and pitiful.  I can't imagine Monroe being happy with her image depicting her like that during the height of her fame, nor the Duchess of Windsor content with her depiction showing all the wrinkles of time and tears written across her face.

Avedon is definitely not the only photographer to resort to 'tricks' to get the portrait they want, and you have to do what you have to do to get the image you want to get.  Many portrait photographers use 'tricks' to get their subjects to relax or at least put down their guard. Some even resort to not even putting film in the camera during the first 'rolls' of shooting. These first 'rolls' of shooting exhausts the subject and allows the best images to be created during the final rolls when the subject has lost their self-consciousness.

But it was this 'rawness' which created most of the critique directed at what is perhaps his magnus opus 'In the American West.' For this ambitious project, Avedon photographed thousands of images using several assistants, an 8X10 large format camera with his signature white backdrop and had them printed larger-than-life for exhibition purposes.

Hansel Nicholas Burum, coal miner, Somerset, Colorado, December 17, 1979

He abandoned photographing celebrities and models and instead concentrated on everyday working class people as his subject and the critique comes because of this.

Juan Patricio Lobato, Carney, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23. 1980

Here is a well-established fashion photographer, who has worked with some of the most famous people of the time, comes in with a crew, lighting and an 8X10 camera (which can be very intimidating) and sets up a background which strips a person of their surroundings (and therefore some identity) to photograph people who are not in the habit of being photographed at this level. 

Needless to say, the structure of power is all in the hands of the photographer and the process can, and has been, seen as exploitative. The blank background (and large scale) encourages the viewer to scrutinize the subject being depicted.

Some would argue that this is also how Avedon depicted celebrities, but we must consider for a moment how one views the images of the rich and famous being depicted as vulnerable, it somehow humanizes their stature, as opposed to viewing someone of lesser means depicted in the same manner, it instead opens them up to pity.

Petra Alvarado, on her birthday, factory worker, El Paso, Texas, April 22, 1982