Avedon: Something Personal Hardcover – Illustrated, November 21, 2017
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“It’s a good time, this book. There’s a feeling of arriving at a party where everyone is at least two drinks ahead of you, and the hostess has you by the arm and is barreling you into the thick of things, talking a mile a minute, catching you up on everyone’s hidden agendas. . . . Everyone saw one side of [Richard Avedon]—but together the testimonials of his assistants, models and lovers add up to a mosaic of the man. The snapshots are affectionate and admiring, and the contradictions in them can give you whiplash.”—The New York Times
“Intimate and dishy in its conversational tone, the book makes you feel as though you are nose to nose trading stories with a vivacious confidant. . . . This roomy account fills in the renowned white space surrounding Avedon, a man who curated his reputation as carefully as he did his output, remaining relentlessly private. . . . Notably, this book gives luminaries—including Renata Adler, Mike Nichols, Naomi Campbell, Veruschka, and Twyla Tharp—the chance to speak illuminatingly on the man who captured them on film. It’s a saucy meandering from anecdote to anecdote. . . . Stevens and [Steven M. L.] Aronson have telescoped Avedon’s star into much clearer view.”—Chicago Tribune
“Avedon: Something Personal gives you the gossip. Snap!”—New York
“Although the bitchier and more salacious anecdotes . . . will likely earn the book a good deal of attention, the cast of characters is most interesting when discussing Avedon’s central struggle: Should he direct his talents to selling the lie or revealing the truth? . . . The composite portrait that emerges . . . depicts a frantic, insecure artist consumed by ambition. . . Testimonies—especially those by Avedon’s former studio assistants and managers—also reveal a man capable of great generosity and unadulterated joy.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[Offers] loads of personal information here to horrify an estate that would prefer to paint an unblemished face on the reputation of the deceased . . . Balancing the disclosure of these secrets, however, the authors dazzle us with stories from models, writers, editors, actors, and friends that attest to [Avedon's] electrifying and seductive intelligence.”—Collector Daily (Photobooks)
“Exhilarating . . . Like Tina Brown’s diaries . . . A whirlwind read, dropping names, exhibits, assignments, one-liners and wisecracks so fast I turned the 697 pages slightly breathless, taking top-speed notes like a snapping paparazza. . . . [Stevens’s] portrait is personal and affectionate, [and] intentionally subjective. She reveals intimate details of his life and death without judgment and often with humor. . . . This book is a fine memorial.”—Elaine Showalter, The Times Literary Supplement
“Capacious and valuable . . . The Richard Avedon Foundation . . . prefers that details about Avedon’s private life stay private, even after death. But Avedon lived a rich, full life, and a rich, full life has sex, love, food, clarity, contradiction.”—HuffPost
“Stevens . . . doesn’t shy away from [Avedon’s] darker recesses [but] what you do come away with is a huge appreciation for his body of work and for his absolute lust for life.”—New Statesman
About the Author
Steven M. L. Aronson met Richard Avedon in 1970, and their paths continued to cross through the rest of Avedon’s life. A former book editor and publisher, he is the author of Hype and the co-author of the Edgar Award–winning Savage Grace. He contributed the biographical portion to the collector’s edition of the work of the photographer Peter Beard. His profiles, interviews, and articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Interview, New York, Esquire, The Village Voice, Architectural Digest, Poetry, and The Nation.
- Item Weight : 2.2 pounds
- Hardcover : 720 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812994434
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812994438
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
- Publisher : Random House; Illustrated edition (November 21, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #453,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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AVEDON: SOMETHING PERSONAL
December 13, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – LETTER TO THE EDITOR IN RESPONSE TO THE NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF AVEDON: SOMETHING PERSONAL
To the Editor:
Norma Stevens' book Something Personal (co-written with Steven M.L. Aronson) tells a story in which she, of all the people in Richard Avedon’s long life, was the integral figure, the person around whom all the action centered. So integral, in fact, that very early on in the book – which is billed as a biography, not a memoir – Ms. Stevens writes, with great solemnity, “In 2004, I was at his side when he left this world.”
No she wasn’t. How do I know? Because on the day that Avedon died in San Antonio, Ms. Stevens was with me and the rest of Avedon’s employees at his studio in New York City. She broke the news to us. Avedon’s death was attended solely by members of his immediate family.
This may seem like a small lie for Ms. Stevens to tell, but it is emblematic of the huge problem that pervades Something Personal. A person who is willing to lie about attending someone on his deathbed in order to exaggerate their own importance is a person who is willing to elide and evade fact whenever it suits her, and in this book, it suits Ms. Stevens quite a lot. It is the jumping off point from which Ms. Stevens tries to convince us that Avedon trusted her alone with his deepest secrets (which is untrue), and directed her to “out” him at her own convenience. Ms. Sehgal is right to be suspicious of Ms. Stevens’ assertions of her singularity.
By her own admission, Stevens (not to mention Aronson) never interviewed Avedon for the book. Stevens says nothing more than that she “scribbled down occasionally” Avedon’s anecdotes after she began working for him in 1976, when he was 52. She says she gave scant thought to writing a book, and only announced that she would be doing so after her contract with The Richard Avedon Foundation was not renewed in 2009. And yet, Stevens directly quotes Avedon hundreds of times, often at great length, citing no sources whatsoever – not the norm for a biography. This gives the appearance that Avedon willingly participated in the book, and it lends Stevens a credibility she does not deserve. Tellingly, many of the quotes that have been inserted into the mouth of the dead man contain a mind-numbing number of factual errors.
For example, among other stories, Ms. Stevens recounts an evening in Paris in 1972 when she and her husband allegedly ran into Avedon and the model Dorian Leigh at the Ritz. According to Stevens, Avedon, who at the time Stevens barely knew, turned to her and said “I just bought a carriage house way over east on Seventy-fifth Street that I’m going to make into my new studio….I’m planning to live there, too….I’m running away from home….Only I haven’t told her [my wife] yet. What do you think I should say?” To which Stevens replies, “Tell her it’s nothing personal, it’s just about work.” To which Avedon allegedly replied, “Oh that’s good. You’ve saved my life.”
It’s another story emblematic of Ms. Stevens’ – and the book’s – central problem, namely that Stevens styles herself as essential to every aspect of Avedon’s life – including his personal life. Except, of course, that the story isn’t true. Avedon bought his Seventy-fifth Street studio in 1970 and was photographing and living there by early 1971. His wife already knew. Both Stevens’ timeline and her conception of herself are all wrong, as they are throughout the book. And the fact that she uses direct quotes from Richard Avedon to recount this alleged encounter 45 years after it supposedly took place – demonstrates the lengths that Stevens is willing to go to shape a narrative – a fiction, really, that suits her agenda.
Elsewhere, Stevens, who seems obsessed with Avedon’s personal life, takes Avedon to task for the cycle of portraits he made of his father, Jacob Israel Avedon, before his death in 1973. She writes, “Over the next six years, Dick photographed his father relentlessly. The sittings were fraught. And there were as many as fifty of them….” This sounds sensational but is completely false. Avedon photographed his very willing father exactly six times between 1969 and 1973.
Sehgal credits Stevens with offering illuminating behind-the-scenes looks into Avedon’s work but even here, Stevens is traveling well-trod, and sometimes shaky ground. Avedon revolutionizing fashion photography, bringing movement and dynamism to the pages of magazines is the first thing anyone ever says about him – Stevens offers no extra insight there. Dorian Leigh herself wrote about this with much more precision and intelligence in her 1980 memoir. A Stevens assertion such as Christina Paolozzi being the first bare-breasted woman to appear in a high-fashion magazine (and Sehgal’s repetition of this supposed fact) is just wrong, even in Avedon’s own work.
Which takes us to another fundamental flaw. The book was not fact-checked. It makes no difference that Stevens worked for Avedon for 30 years, during which time they obviously developed a friendship – it is still incumbent upon her to get the facts straight. She is solely resting on what she imagines to be the inherent authority she somehow earned by her association with Avedon. This is wrong, whether the genre is memoir, or, as in this case, biography. The list of errors is far too long to recount, but it causes the book to collapse under the weight of its own sloppiness. Stevens, who holds herself out as the ultimate authority, is instead the proverbial unreliable narrator.
James Martin has been the Executive Director of The Richard Avedon Foundation since 2012. He previously worked at the Avedon Studio.
I read the book before becoming aware of the negative publicity from Avedon Foundation. In my limited experience with journalism and publishing there are always errors, some because of difficulty getting information, some because of sloppy work by the author, some because exaggeration is a universal human failing, and so on. AF make it seem as though the whole book is a work of fiction, which seems unlikely. Also there have been fourteen years in which to bring out a biography under their own control to present "the authorized version" of the story. Personally I think they have made a mistake by attacking Stevens and the publisher in public. If there is to be a revised second edition this will require the cooperation of Random House, I question whether the strength of the AF argument is made stronger by being presented to the public. Personally I feel they have started a squabble that can do the Avedon name no good. But whether you agree or disagree, this is a worthwhile addition to any body's bookshelf.
There were parts of it which I felt were a bit tedious, often related the people in the fashion world. Norma occupies much of the book with anecdotes from people who knew Avedon, including his friends, assistants, and clients. But she herself is a very competent narrator and perhaps the confidant of Avedon to tell his story. Thank god she did.
On the whole, I enormously enjoyed the book and never felt for one moment the author was trying to sensationalize his life. Certainly, there are aspects of the book which are still sensitive topics (for instance, Avedon's son). But I loved getting to know so much about my favorite photographer, and the depth into Avedon's life and creative musings is unparalleled. One of the few hypes I felt was regarding Avedon's bank account; by the end of the story, it leaves me wondering exactly how much money Avedon made in his lifetime and whether his contracts with the New Yorker, Versace, and Revlon, among others, were really that extraordinary. Norma writes that Avedon's pictures "pulled", but I felt this was weak only in the sense that the only real proof for it was his return business and fame.
I always heard that Avedon may have been gay, but I certainly believe it after reading the book. Not that that affects my perception of his work and legacy. I especially loved the section about the Western Project and wished it could have been longer and more detailed. There were so many hilarious stories in the book, like the time somebody stole Avedon's identity and mercilessly exploited young women across the country. Overall, I only got tired reading it at a few points, and the book may have lost around 200 words without any real loss to its substance.
Top reviews from other countries
i tempi di consegna son stati come al solito precisissimi!
il libro si fa leggere con piacere e l'intero volume termina in un paio di giorni. è interessantissimo e molto istruttivo!