“Nothing Personal” includes vitrines filled with the copious correspondence involved in the making of these pictures, which captured President Eisenhower; the founder of the American Nazi Party; a former slave; and mental health patients at the East Louisiana State Hospital, among others. “Avedon’s status at that point gave him an entree few others would have had,” notes MacGill.
In tandem with the exhibition, Taschen is publishing a facsimile edition of Nothing Personal, which was roundly criticized at the time and went out of print almost immediately. Dismissing its creators as “show-biz moralists,” New York Review of Books critic Robert Brustein questioned why Avedon, “who spends much of his career flattering celebrities with soft lights and blurred effects, should also wish to transform these same subjects into repulsive knaves, fools, and lunatics.”
Yet the book gained a cult following. In an essay for a booklet accompanying the new edition, New Yorker critic Hilton Als writes about discovering Nothing Personal at age 13 in the Brooklyn Public Library. “It’s the first time I see and realize that current events can be art, that being humane is an art,” he writes. Avedon and Baldwin “saw the exceptional in the real. Not the ‘sublime’ or transcendent, but the brutality, theatre, innocence, and confusion that made up their racist, sexist, sexy, and impossible city of love and lovelessness.”