Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sharon 's friends, Richard Avedon and Donyale Luna, mentioned in new Vanity Fair article Plus Avedon's Sharon Tate Portrait

There is a great new article on legendary photographer Richard Avedon in the latest edition of Vanity Fair with New Moon's Robert Pattinson on the cover for December.

In addition, the article also includes mention of another person Sharon knew, the fashion model Donyale Luna.  Luna was a friend of the Polanski's and was often at the center of racial issues at the time.  Although, she should be more widely known as the first notable African American model and the actual first black cover girl to appear on a fashion magazine--British Vogue for March 1966.  She was photographed by the great David Bailey for this.

Donyale Luna at the "Rosemary's Baby" premiere in France with Roman, Sharon and Mia Farrow.
She is on the back row on the left with her boyfriend.

First off, I want to mention Avedon.  He was fond of Sharon and was once quoted as saying that "Sharon acted differently when Polanski was around."  I found this in a set of articles I have but I only have the last half of it and unfortunately, I don't know what it was from.  It is however, printed on newspaper type material.  If I can find more of this sometime I will post it here.

The reason I mention the Vanity Fair article is because it discusses what kind of person Avedon was and how he photographed people from models to movie stars and others.  And yes, he did photograph our lovely Sharon.   She was photographed in New York on October 31st (yes Halloween) in 1966 by Avedon for a spread for "The World's Most Beautiful Women" for a magazine. 

Here is the Avedon photo taken of Sharon in 1966. Unfortunately, Avedon never released any other photographs from this session and he wanted 15,000.00 for a print of it when he was alive.

I hope this article will give you an idea of what it must have been like for Sharon to pose for Avedon and what his personality would have been like.

The article for Vanity Fair is called "The Now of Avedon" by David Michaelis and begins with this (Note: part of the article has been edited down) :

As the 60s dawned, Richard Avedon was in crisis, wrestling with his role as America's national portraitist.  Then he turned his eye to the future--the youthquake, Pop art, the moon landing, racial integration, even reality TV--and poured that prophetic vision into the one indelible issue of Harper's Bazaar.

Nineteen sixty-five!  The Beatles in space suits!  The frug.  The moon.  English supermodel Jean Shrimpton--the first astronette!  Luna, the first black supermodel.  The New York of the youthquake, happenings, and underground movies, the freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Lew Alcindor, the high school hoops phenomenon soon to be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, plus a glossary of the latest lingo (It's the whole bag!), even Monti Rock III, the famous-for-being-famous hairdresser who claimed to have invented the entire 60s, but who turns out to have been the first sighting of reality TV...

All this in one issue of Harper's Bazaar--the best of everything, the latest in art, fashion, music, writing, conceived of as a "passport to the off-beat side of Now," with the most coveted cover girl's face on the planet, winking through a pink space helmet: the hologram strip on Jean Shrimpton's long-lashed baby-blue eye actually flickered right at you!

All that!  In April 1965--the springtime of the 60s, well before the Summer of Love, before the great shocks of 1968 and 1969, and the disillusionments still ahead in civil rights, Vietnam, and Watergate.  April 1965 was radiant with anticipation--America was preparing to marry the future, and the one man who could make the national wedding portrait was Richard Avedon.

Avedon photographing Sophia Loren.

He was the greatest and most influential portraitist of his time, who recorded every seismic tremor in a society that was changing, and fast.  Having early stormed to power as the world's most commanding editorial fashion photographer, Avedon (whose fashion work can be seen at the Detroit Institute of Arts through January 17) was among Madison Avenue's highest-paid, most sought-after showmen, revered by clients like Revlon, DuPont, Cartier, Helena Rubinstein, and creating a body of commercial work that would come to include elaborate television spots in which he directed entire mini-plays for Chanel, Calvin Klein, and Versace.  In his portraiture, meanwhile--his "deeper work," he called it--Avedon refused to trade on his subjects' celebrity as a commodity; he took all people as works of art in themselves.

He rightly saw himself as a great reader of faces, zooming in on those facets of a subject that were "contradictory and at the same time connected."  In each phase of his work--fashion, advertising, portraiture--he varied the emphasis slightly to achieve certain effects, but no matter what the object of the photograph, his intensity and almost painful absorption in the subject remained a costant.  No other photographer seemed to live so acutely in the moment or in his own images.  "What I try to express of myself in my portraits is very often violent, very often a frightening or riotous element in myself...Sometimes I can make it happen in five minutes.  Sometimes it can take me quite a long time.  More often, quickly.  But, I feel I do it by turning myself into what I want the portrait to be like."

Charmed Life

His big, handsome, dark head and lean, sinewy body made him powerfully attractive, indeed seductive, an almost wizardly presence.  His eyes, fixed upon the subject of the moment, seemed those of a film noir detective.  As soon as he picked up his Rolleiflex, or stood to the left of the big, spooky Brady-style view camera (vastly updated, with fast, ASA 400 film--everything with Avedon was always Now, never remotely Then), he radiated mystery and energy in equal parts, a jittery, soul-piercing thrust behind every move.  He sought to give as much as he took, though he took probably a little more than he gave.  But because he made women look ravishing, and because glamour is a quality we ascribe to others, Avedon was uniquely enthralling in the way he kept the magic in the palm of his hand: You, too, could be Avedonian.  He just had to like you.

"He was a charmer all of the time," says his model and friend China Machado.  "If he wanted to charm you, you didn't have a chance."  Ruth Ansel, the former art director of Harper's Bazaar, remembers that "I never saw anybody work so hard--seven days a week--with a never-ending stream of energy.  His energy level was unsurpassable, as was the level of seduction."  Curiosity and playfulness were instruments of his power.  "He had this extraordinarily winning personality," recalls Frederick Eberstadt, Avedon's friend and assistant.  "Everybody fell.  It was always the same: He never had met anyone he liked as much as he liked you.  And you had never met anyone who was as much fun as Dick."

The article goes on to say that in "the studio he displayed two sides--one eager, delighted, cajoling, but the other controlling proficient, businesslike."

"Being with Dick was like being with another kid in the playground," said Lauren Hutton, Avedon's primary model in later years at Vogue.  "There was a playful side of Dick," confirms China Machado.  "He made everything an event."

Avedon's most observant rival, Irving Penn, said: "Avedon's greatest creation has been a kind of woman... the Avedon woman."

The article discusses how Avedon photographed Chaplin, Bogart, Picasso, and Marilyn Monroe and how he went on to publish books of his photography. 

Reporter David Michaelis writes: Models who came to Avedon's spotless studio at 110 East 58th Street found not just the master but also a cavalcade of art directors, fashion editors, stylists, hairdressers, assistants, and, more important, themselves.  To stand first in any human enterprise demands vast energy.  With Avedon, newcomers not only felt energized, but found new energies.  He lit thm from within, and they felt themselves become radiant.  "You thought you were the most perfect person in the world," recalls China Machado.

His was a kindly energy.  You had come to be a part of his family. 

The article says that Avedon made sure everyone had what they needed and wanted, letting them feel well taken care of.  For instance, he put on great music and put caviar on baked potatoes for China Machado, give Champagne to Suzy Parker, and play Back for Georgia O'Keeffe. 

Michaelis goes on to add: "Avedon was sensitive in handling any nervousness in his subjects; indeed, many took alarm at being under the lens of the great Avedon.  'He erased that feeling by sitting down at the table just with her,' recalls Avedon's longtime collaborator, the fashion legend Polly Allen Mellen.  'It didn't matter if it was a model, a movie star, or James Baldwin--everybody was treated the same way.  Why?  Because he wanted to get into the guts fo the person he wanted to photograph, model or no.'

As the sitting began, Avedon would feel himself infused with a mysterious mix of tension and ease.  Each time he took camera in hand, what he was about to do became "crucial."  For Avedon, a picture was not about tripods or lighting or lenses.  "I hate cameras," he told Truman Capote.  It was about what flared between him and his sitter in the moment that brought them face-to-face.  "I come to a sitting so charged with what I want out of the sitting, before it begins, that I'm almost sick before I start it,"  he said in February 1965.  "I know that what I have to accomplish has to be done on my shoulders--I have to make it happen."

"If I can't make that happen," he went on years later, "if I'm low, if the day is wrong, if something in the studio irritates me, then the fear comes over me... I'm scared, like an athlete gets scared: You're going to try for the high jump, you could blow it.  That's exactly what taking a photograph is like... Most people come for one sitting, and I have to pull it out of myself and out of them."

To awaken the sitters' emotions, the more private the better, he spoke softly.  Delivered from back in the throat, his tone was confidential, conspiratorial.  Peering down into the ground-glass viewer of the Rolleiflex or standing beside the view camera, he was impassive, sometimes saying nothing at all.  "He's so very, very quiet," the English model Tania Mallet said after a sitting in 1964.  "Yet he sucks your soul out through your eye sockets, and leaves you utterly drained.  I've never known anything like it."

Coming close to the decisive moment, Avedon looked straight into his subject's eyes, as the subject looked back at him.  At this heightened instant, Avedon searched the face to find what he was looking for, or what he might put there.  One sitter may have come closest when she said, "He looked at you like a child looks--without any shame of looking."

Self portrait later in life.

Avedon's own body would adopt the posture or stance of each sitter, his face reflecting the sitter's expression or transfusing into the sitter the presentation he desired.  When finally he tripped the shutter, one sitter recalled, his whole body shook from the release of "the tension that is the photograph."

In his portraits Avedon learned from his subjects as did few other photographers.  He observed them like a naturalist, sometimes over a period of days. 

Jean Shrimpton recalls: "He was a powerful person, an intellectual, and it was exciting.  I liked him and respected him a lot.  I think Irving Penn was a kinder man, but it wasn't so exciting in the Penn studio.  Avedon knew what he wanted and that's what he was after." 

The article goes on to tell of Shrimpton being photographed by Avedon for that famous 1965 Harper's Bazaar issue.  And of other models he used for the magazine such as China Machado and Donyale Luna.

China Machado--leaping high-heeled against the wild blue yonder as Avedon urged," Higher, Higher!" --had been the first non-Caucasian model (she was of Sino-Portuguese descent) to appear in a Western fashion magazine when Avedon photographed her for Bazaar in 1959.

On January 15, 1965, he photographed Donyale Luna in James Galanos's tiger chiffon sheath.  As the first black supermodel she was at the same time making fashion history in a cover sketch on the January Harper's Bazaar.  But that was just the beginning.  As if aniticipating her upcoming role in Avedon's issue, Luna, born Peggy Anne Freeman in Detroit in 1945, replied to a question asking where she was from with "I'm from the moon, darling."

Then the article tells that Avedon photographed Lew Alcindor, the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Then there was Monti Rock III, who had burst on the scene when as a 19 year-old hairdresser, his miscutting of a model's hair had inadvertently created the Lopsided Look.  Avedon photographed him during this time as well.  When Rock confided to The New Yorker, "I want to live my life on television," he became the first siting of the next century's reality tv and appeared on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show 33 times.

Then he wanted to photograph the Beatles but Lennon and Harrison declined but McCartney and Starr showed up.

Donyale Luna photographed for fashion magazine.

Back in New York the article says, "Faced with the first black model, a James Galanos studio employee, herself a black woman, announced that she would leave if Donyale Luna appeared in the magazine wearing Galanos's clothes.  As the story was later told, advertisers with southern accounts pulled their ads from the issue; still later, subscribers were said to have canceled their subscriptions, while William Randolph Hearst Jr., whose family owned Harper's Bazaar, relayed his displeasure to the editors.

Galanos himself may have entertained aesthetic and commercial questions, not necessarily because of the race issue, but because Luna made such a contrast to his clothes.  Having already been in several Andy Warhol films, she would go on to appear in Fellini Satyricon and Otto Preminger's 1968 psychedelic comedy, 'Skidoo', in which she played God's mistress--Groucho Marx being God, at last.  Increasingly vocal in interviews about her awakening to LSD, Luna was acclaimed by London as "the completely New Image of the Negro Woman," while The New York Times noted she was known to be "secretive, mysterious, contradictory, evasive, mercurial and insistent upon her multiracial lineage--exotic, chameleon strands of Mesican, American Indian, Chinese, Irish and last, but least escapable, Negro."  Her career eventually disintegrated into drugs and debt; by the mid-1970s she had dropped out of modeling, to die in Rome of an accidental overdose at the age of 33.

The article ends with the sucess of Avedon's 1965 issue of Harper's Bazaar and his choice to move on to work for the magazine's enemy, Vogue.  "In those days magazines meant something--you were joining a community that meant something," he says.

More on Donyale Luna tomorrow....look for Part 2 of this...

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