A new exhibition of Richard Avedon's photography shows off the sartorial choices of activists like Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg.
As Oscar Wilde once observed, "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances." The photographer Richard Avedon, who straddled the worlds of fine art and fashion, surely would have agreed with him. And yet Avedon—who preferred to keep props and lighting to a minimum—didn't seem to judge his subjects as much as to let them incriminate themselves. ("A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he's being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he's wearing or how he looks," Avedon said.) Deeply revealing as his portraits seem to be, he nonetheless contended that they were also simply studies of the superficial. "My photographs don't go below the surface," said Avedon, the only photographer whose work has been treated to two major exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "They don't go below anything. ... I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues."
A week after the attempted comeback of the most significant political movement of the new century, an Avedon triptych now on display in New York gets a person thinking about the clues radicals have used over the years to signal their political beliefs. The
At the same time, they look quite different from their bourgeois contemporaries pictured on the other side of the gallery: the members of Allen Ginsberg's extended family. Those photos feature men in crisp suits and requisite ties, ladies in polite cocktail dresses and kitten heels. No one would've mistaken the Ginsbergs for Yippies—members of the countercultural 60's youth movement that Hoffman helped to found—just as no one would've mistaken Hoffman for a banker or any other kind of office worker.