Richard Avedon, ‘Brigitte Bardot, hair by Alexandre, Paris, January 27’, 1959, Phillips

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From the Catalogue:
“'To get a satisfactory print,' he [Avedon] said, his voice tight with that intensity perfectionism induces, 'one that contains all you intended, is very often more difficult and dangerous than the sitting itself. When I’m photographing, I immediately know when I’ve got the image I really want. But to get the image out of the camera and into the open is another matter. I make as many as sixty prints of a picture, would make a hundred if it would mean a fraction’s improvement, [to] help show the invisible visible, the inside outside.'” -Richard Avedon in conversation with Truman Capote for the introduction to Observations

The brilliance of Richard Avedon’s portraits lies in the effortless beauty and perfection of the print. So removing the viewer from the meticulousness with which Avedon approaches the image-making process, the focus is simply on the sitter, and their likeness, as captured through his masterful lens. In 1959, his subject was the French bombshell, Brigitte Bardot who catapulted into the public sphere in 1956 following the release of Et Dieu… Crea la Femme (And God Created Woman). Thus, at the time this portrait was taken, Bardot was quickly escalating to a new peak with her career, and likewise, Avedon, about to reach a 15 year anniversary at Harper’s Bazaar, was in the process of creating his first book, Observations, in which he would include the recently taken portrait of Bardot as one of his masterworks to date.

Brigitte Bardot, hair by Alexandre, Paris was shot in January for inclusion in the March issue of Harper’s Bazaar, “Eyes on Paris and America” with Bardot’s hair styled by the famed Alexandre de Paris (Louis Alexandre Raimon) whose roster of clients included Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor, and nearly every fashion house in Paris. Just as Avedon is known to capture the essence of his sitters in his portraits, Alexandre was quoted as saying, “[I aim] to recognize a woman's personality and match her hair to it.” To further elevate the image, and bring the portrait “into the open” Avedon double-exposed Bardot’s famous mane, already styled in volumes by Alexandre, to create the appearance of sudden movement, framing Bardot’s delicate facial features in a cascade of swaying, rippling waves.

To add further appeal, Avedon chose to photograph Bardot against a gray background, as opposed to his more heavily utilized white seamless. On the selection of gray, Avedon once commented, “With the tonal background, you’re allowed the romance of a face coming out of the dark.” Indeed, by using the gray background, which he also selected for the portrait of the American icon, Marilyn Monroe, in 1957, Avedon allows for an even more intimate reading of the image with a high contrast focused on Bardot’s most recognized features: the big hair, the luscious lips, and the lined eyes with a seductive, commanding gaze. His tightly cropped and straight-on portrait makes visible the intensity of Bardot’s sensuality within.

The resulting, masterful portrait of Bardot was featured as a full page image in Observations. So early in his career and yet with nearly 15 years already at Harper’s the book showcases a focus so intensely Avedon. In the conclusion to the introduction Truman Capote writes, “We came to the end of the last row, stopped, surveyed the gleaming field of black and white, a harvest fifteen years on the vine. Avedon shrugged. ‘That’s all. That’s it. The visual symbols of what I want to tell are in these faces.’”
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: Signed and numbered 33/35 in ink in the margin; title, date and credit reproduction limitation stamps on the verso.

Eyes On Paris and America', Harper's Bazaar, March 1959
Avedon and Capote, Observations, p. 106
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Woman in the Mirror: Richard Avedon, n.p.
International Center of Photography and The Richard Avedon Foundation, Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000, p. 87
Lahr, Performance: Richard Avedon, p. 65
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004, n.p.
Random House, Richard Avedon: Evidence 1944-1994, p. 20
Harper's Bazaar España, July-August 2014, cover

Richard Avedon to the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York

About Richard Avedon

Although Richard Avedon’s celebrated fashion photographs have graced the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Life, the artist primarily referred to himself as a portrait photographer. Avedon’s fashion shots are profoundly dramatic and dynamic, often capturing the model in motion. Along with his own acquaintances and various ordinary people, Avedon took photographs of celebrities, politicians, and other public figures ranging from Bertrand Russell to Marilyn Monroe. In both his commercial assignments and his portrait work, Avedon’s meticulous approach and penetrating gaze sought to capture the essence of each unique subject and moment in time.

American, 1923-2004, New York, New York

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