Derek Blasberg on the New Richard Avedon Exhibition at Gagosian

Avedon, self-portrait, Montauk, New York, February 28, 1993.

Last Thursday night, I went to the opening of Avedon 100 at Gagosian, a new exhibition celebrating Richard Avedon’s centennial, in which the cognoscenti of the art, fashion, film, and literary worlds were invited to select a photo of Avedon’s to be displayed at the gallery. I’m a lifelong Avedon geek and was really thrilled by the show, so I stopped by the next day to talk about the works with Derek Blasberg, the show’s curator. Today, on what would’ve been the photographer’s 100th birthday, we bring you Blasberg’s BTS insights into how some of Avedon’s greatest photos came to be.




Lauren Hutton, shirt by Levi’s, hair by Rick Gillette, New York, March 13, 1973.

“Lauren came in this same hat last night to the opening. [The day Avedon took this photo], she showed up with her hair messy, tucked into a cap, and she walked in the studio and Avedon happened to be by the front door. And he was like, ‘Don’t touch.’ She tells the story like Linda [the stylist] was trying to put clothes on her and Richard was like, ‘Leave her alone.'”



Andy Warhol and members of The Factory: Paul Morrissey, director; Joe Dallesandro, actor; Candy Darling, actor; Eric Emerson, actor; Jay Johnson, actor; Tom Hompertz, actor; Gerard Malanga, poet; Viva, actress; Paul Morrissey; Taylor Mead, actor; Brigid Polk, actress; Joe Dallesandro; and Andy Warhol, artist, New York, October 30, 1969.

“This was photographed over nine months. He did a lot of different tries. The first try was a bunch of the Factory sitting down and him standing above them with lights exposed, which he ultimately decided wasn’t the best fit. He did several of these mural styles. He loved the idea of recreating the three Graces as men. Obviously, in 1969, the Comstock Laws had only been repealed like five years before, which is what made it a federal crime to mail pornography. Candy Darling’s in this. There wasn’t a lot of trans representation. He wrote at the time that he didn’t want her to look like a freak. He wanted her to really feel glamorous. There’s a lot going on in this picture. You see Joe Dallesandro naked on the left, and then we see him clothed next to Andy on the right.”



China Machado, suit by Ben Zuckerman, hair by Kenneth, New York, November 6, 1958.

“Sofia Coppola chose China Machado. She died in 2019 and she was sort of a zany presence. What’s incredible about this picture is that Avedon turned them in and the publishers went back and said, ‘Reshoot all these outfits on a white chick.’ And he was like, ‘No. My contract is up for renewal and I’m not going to sign it if you don’t run them.’ So she was the first non-white model [in Harper’s Bazaar], but not because Harper’s Bazaar suddenly was progressive.”




William Casby, born in slavery, Algiers, Louisiana, March 24, 1963.

“Now, there’s a really incredible story about this picture of William Casby. In the 1960s, Avedon read in the Associated Press a story about what was believed to have been the last slave. He was in his 100s, so he would’ve been born before the Civil War and before the Emancipation Proclamation. So he ran to the south, I think it was Georgia, and photographed him and his family. He gave the family two prints that the family over the past 60 years has lost. But yesterday, at 4:00pm before the show opened, the great, great, great grandkids all came here and saw it for the first time in person. We took a group picture with them. Then Anna Wintour came in for a little preview walkthrough. One of the women was wearing this colorful dress and Anna came over and was like, ‘Oh, I love your dress.’ She was over the moon.”




Richard Avedon and James Baldwin, Harlem, New York, October 15, 1946.

“James Baldwin and Richard Avedon actually went to high school together. They worked on the school newspaper together. It was called the Magpie. I would like to think this is the oldest-known mirror selfie. This is taken at James Baldwin’s mother’s house in Harlem. There’s a really good split-level self-portrait of Baldwin on that side, which we’ll get to. But they were obviously very close. They published a book together called Nothing Personal.”




Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957.

“In 2002, when he had his show at the Met, this was the poster. I know that because I bought the poster and I still have it. So, this was really celebrated because obviously she was a tragic heroine and we believe that we see the real Marilyn in this picture. This is the melancholy behind the mask. This was taken in 1957. It was for Harper’s Bazaar. And then she died in 1962. She was 36 when she died. Obviously, there’s so much of Avedon’s career that has been fleshed out, but one thing that a lot of people don’t think of is he was obsessed with advancements in technology and printing. So, in 1974, he made a mural using outtakes from this shoot. She was in the same dress. And if we think that melancholy Marilyn is the real Marilyn, then I’m amazed and impressed that she was such a good actress and performer or glamazon that when he slung her in front of a camera, he’s like, “Do your thing,” that’s what you get. It’s spectacular.”

Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957.




Hillary Clinton, United States Senator, New York, September 13, 2003.

“Hillary Clinton obviously chose this one, when she was a senator in New York. What’s great about this story is that she came in full Hillary drag, the pantsuit, and Richard said, ‘I can’t take another picture or see another picture of you in that look.’ So, that’s his sweater. He took off his sweater. She’s wearing Avedon’s cardigan.”




Gloria Vanderbilt, 10 Gracie Square, New York, May 26, 1956.

“Anderson Cooper picked this one. That’s his mom and her house in Gracie Square.




Henry Kissinger, Washington, DC, 1976.

“In 1976, Jann Wenner commissioned from Richard Avedon a series that asked to identify the power players of politics. A lot of these people were in D.C. at the time. This was the entire well of an issue of Rolling Stone in 1976. What is sort of remarkable is you have George H.W. Bush, who at the time was the head of the CIA. You have Ronald Reagan, who at the time was the governor of California. He’s a great casting agent. Henry Kissinger is here. Henry Kissinger, during the shoot, only said two words to Avedon and it was, ‘Be kind.’ He just turned 100, and with all the press around the birthday, a lot of them brought up these pictures. He knew that sitting would follow him forever.”




Jacob Israel Avedon, father of Richard Avedon, Sarasota, Florida, October 1969-August 1973.


“Elton John asked specifically for the series about Avedon’s father. They had a contentious relationship. Avedon wanted to be a poet, and then he wanted to be a photographer. There were tough conversations, but near the end of his life he felt like he was connecting with his father through the lens of a camera, so these were very important to him. The series was showed at MoMA after he died.”




Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955.

Karlie [Kloss] chose this one, which for a long time was the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction. What’s crazy about this picture is that obviously, if we tried to recreate this, with the chains and elephants, there would be a protest outside a building.”




Stephen Sondheim, composer, New York, July 10, 1961, and April 6, 2004.

“This is Stephen Sondheim. This is what a life in the New York theater will do to you.”