The first definitive biography of Richard Avedon, a monumental photographer of the twentieth century, from award-winning photography critic Philip Gefter.
In his acclaimed portraits, Richard Avedon captured the iconic figures of the twentieth century in his starkly bold, intimately minimal, and forensic visual style. Concurrently, his work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue transformed the ideals of women's fashion, femininity, and culture to become the defining look of an era. Yet despite his driving ambition to gain respect in the art world, during his lifetime he was condescendingly dismissed as a "celebrity photographer."
What Becomes a Legend Most is the first definitive biography of this luminary—an intensely driven man who endured personal and professional prejudice, struggled with deep insecurities, and mounted an existential lifelong battle to be recognized as an artist. Philip Gefter builds on archival research and exclusive interviews with those closest to Avedon to chronicle his story, beginning with Avedon’s coming-of-age in New York between the world wars, when cultural prejudices forced him to make decisions that shaped the course of his life.
Compounding his private battles, Avedon fought to be taken seriously in a medium that itself struggled to be respected within the art world. Gefter reveals how the 1950s and 1960s informed Avedon’s life and work as much as he informed the period. He counted as close friends a profoundly influential group of artists—Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Harold Brodkey, Renata Adler, Sidney Lumet, and Mike Nichols—who shaped the cultural life of the American twentieth century. It wasn't until Avedon's fashion work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late 1970s that he became a household name.
Balancing glamour with the gravitas of an artist's genuine reach for worldy achievement—and not a little gossip—plus sixteen pages of photographs, What Becomes a Legend Most is an intimate window into Avedon's fascinating world. Dramatic, visionary, and remarkable, it pays tribute to Avedon's role in the history of photography and fashion—and his legacy as one of the most consequential artists of his time.
About the Author
Philip Gefter is the author of two previous books: Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, which received the 2014 Marfield Prize and was a finalist for both the Publishing Triangle’s Shilts-Grahn Nonfiction Award and a Lambda Literary Award for Best Biography/Memoir; and a collection of essays, Photography After Frank. He was an editor at the New York Times for over fifteen years and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. He lives in New York City. www.philipgefter.com
“Imagine the offspring of Marcel Proust and the Energizer Bunny—that’s who Richard Avedon was, a chronicler of fashion, an analyst of social types, the author in pictures of his era. And Philip Gefter captures him. His biography is an Avedon of Avedon.”
— Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Metaphysical Club
“Mesmerizing. . . . Like Avedon’s blank white backgrounds, blasted with light, Gefter’s pages expose in a controlled and intelligent manner all the bigness and littleness of one of the greats.”
— Brad Gooch, New York Times bestselling author of Flannery and City Poet
"A compelling, beautifully written examination of Avedon's life as it reflects the larger cultural milieu of post–World War II New York, and, more importantly, an argument for the role of the artist in contemporary society."
— Stephen Shore, photographer
“Revealing, fluent, and very well written—an exemplary biography of an underappreciated artist.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)