Richard Avedon: Family Affairs

At the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Barbara Jordan, the first African-American congresswoman to come from the Deep South, garnered America’s attention with her keynote address. She told the crowd, “My presence here … is one additional bit of evidence that the American dream need not forever be deferred.” Jordan would become one of only a handful of the 12-by-15-inch framed images that portray women or minorities in the Rolling Stone magazine Richard Avadon portraits called, “The Family” – a visual essay on the nature of American politics at the moment when it was most conspicuous. Famous at an early age, Avedon was well-known for challenging conventions and exploring the boundaries between high art and social commentary. The recently opened “Richard Avedon: Family Affairs,” from the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem features two monumental projects by Avedon, both illustrating his highly innovative approach to portrait photography. The 69 portraits entitled, “The Family” features work Avedon created after being commissioned by Rolling Stone to cover the 1976 presidential election. Foregoing traditional photojournalism for the assignment, Avedon used his Deardorff 8×10 camera to create arresting black and white portraits of each of his subjects. Avedon’s subjects also included others at the epicenter of the events and movements of the time -and some who still are today- including governors, senators, congressmen/women, and a wide swath of varied government officials (Bella Abzug, Jerry Brown, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Jordan, Edward Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Moynihan and Donald Rumsfeld, to name a few), media moguls and journalists (Katharine Graham, I.F. Stone),labor leaders activists (Cesar Chavez, Ralph Nader, A. Philip Randolph), philanthropists (Walter Annenberg) and many more. “Family Affairs documents a time of extraordinary political and social change in American history by one of the most significant photographers working in the second half of the 20th century,” said Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at NMAJH. “‘The Family’ component of the exhibition, given its focus on political power in the days leading up to the 1976 election, seems particularly well-suited for exhibition in Philadelphia, the country’s epicenter for the bicentennial celebrations. And as the country prepares for a presidential election in 2016, the portraits evoke comparisons between the nature of political leadership then and now.” “The Family” includes the ‘76 presidential candidates (Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford); A.M. Rosenthal, managing editor of the New York Times, famous for publishing the Pentagon Papers; and W. Mark Felt, later revealed to be “Deep Throat.” The exhibition also features four group portraits, including a massive mural of the iconic beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his family and three additional portraits shown at a smaller scale — Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory, The Chicago Seven and The Mission Council. The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia will be the only U.S. venue to feature “Richard Avedon: Family Affairs,” from the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem through Aug. 2.

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