In an unprecedented move, a museum commissioned Richard Avedon, an iconic photographer known for his revolutionary approach to portraiture, to create an entire body of work without seeing a single photograph beforehand. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, embarked on this ambitious five-year project, resulting in an incredible collection of 752 photographs.
To assist him in this project, Avedon enlisted the help of Laura Wilson, a skilled photographer and writer. Wilson, who met Avedon in 1979, recalls the moment when she wrote a letter expressing her desire to work for him. Avedon, intrigued by her enthusiasm, invited her to join him for a weekend in Sweetwater, Texas, to document the Rattlesnake Roundup. Impressed by her work ethic and dedication, Avedon asked Wilson to join him on the project.
One of the challenges faced during this endeavor was gaining access to difficult subjects, such as coal miners in Colorado. Wilson’s chance encounter with a man on a plane led her to someone known as “Mr. Coal,” who gave them permission to visit the closed-off mine. Avedon’s unique appearance initially surprised the miners, but his ability to connect with people quickly won them over. His brilliance in dealing with all kinds of individuals is evident in the captivating portraits captured during the project.
The Amon Carter Museum and its director, Mitch Wilder, believed in Avedon’s vision and committed to the five-year project. Unfortunately, Wilder passed away before seeing more than the first set of photographs. However, the new director and board members, although initially skeptical, continued to support the project. The resulting collection showcases Avedon’s foresight and artistic genius.
While Wilson assisted in choosing some of the subjects, she notes that each shoot was meticulously planned. She shares a story of missing the opportunity to photograph a miner, only to have Avedon coincidentally encounter him at a Mormon church in Utah. This incident highlights the synchronicity between Wilson and Avedon, resulting in unforgettable moments captured on film.
The 752 photographs in this remarkable collection stand as a testament to Richard Avedon’s unparalleled impact and fame during his time. The portraits continue to captivate audiences with their timeless quality and profound insight into the diverse lives and stories of the subjects photographed.
– CA: Letter of a lifetime. Interview with Laura Wilson by Christopher Anderson, Magnum Photos, July 1, 2017