Richard Avedon – ways to be lovely

Richard Avedon looks over photographs with Arlene Dahl
May 1956. Richard Avedon looks in a mirror with Arlene Dahl. On the wall are images created by Avedon for Funny Face.

Having made her name in Hollywood as a movie actress, Arlene Dahl began writing a syndicated beauty column in 1952. For the 1 June 1956 edition of the Chicago Tribune she interviewed Richard Avedon.

Avedon had studied photography under Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar. The two formed a close bond, and in 1945 Avedon was hired as a staff photographer for the magazine. He went on to become one of the 20th century’s greatest fashion photographers. Here’s a transcript of the interview…

Top Fashion Photographer Tells Ways to Be Lovely

Richard Avedon, a top photographer, is in Hollywood as technical advisor for the new Audrey Hepburn-Fred Astaire film, “Funny Face.” The Astaire role in the film is much like Mr. Avedon’s role in real life.Because he is widely known as a fashion photographer, Mr. Avedon seemed an ideal choice to discuss my favourite topic – feminine loveliness. And he was.

Emphasizes Lighting

“To begin with,” said this dynamic young man as we sat down to lunch at the studio, “women in private life shouldn’t try to be fashion models. The role of a model is to present a dress. The role of a woman is to present herself. Clothes and lighting and make-up are only a means of enhancing her personality.

“When I mention lighting, I am not speaking just as a photographer. I think lighting in the home is sadly ignored. A woman goes to the movies and admires a beautiful star on the screen. The star looks beautiful because she is beautifully lighted. Lighting can make or break the impression of beauty.

“A beautiful woman I know uses nothing but candles in her home which she entertains,” Mr. Avedon explained. “There is nothing more flattering than candle-light – she looks more beautiful than ever and so do the guests.

“Every woman should see that her home is flatteringly lighted, particularly the spot where she usually sits” he advised. “There should be no harsh line of light or shadow cutting across her face.”

Major Characteristic

In your work you meet many attractive women, I remarked. What qualities do you think contribute most to feminine charm?

“I think the most attractive quality a woman can have,” Mr. Avedon replied, smiling, “is the ability to be interested in things outside herself. And I like a sense of mystery. Everybody gives you so much these days. It’s nice to meet a woman who has a sense of privacy – who withholds something of her personality.”

Tell me, whom do you consider the most fascinating women you have photographed, I asked.

“The most attractive – Audrey Hepburn.” he replied. “The most beautiful – Gloria Vanderbilt. The sexiest – Anna Magnani. The most chic – Mrs. William Paley. The woman with the most poignant face – Countess Medina Visconti of Venice.”

Create Own Standards

“All of these women have something in common,” he said. “They bring more to the camera than just perfect features. And they have created their own standards of beauty. They discovered themselves, then the world discovered them.”

A wonderful way to put it. I told Mr. Avedon. Now, have you a last word to add?

“Believe it or not, I have a beauty hint, he answered. “This is something I heard about from an old lady in Paris: Peel a peach, and rub the inside of the skin over your face where there are tired-looking lines. It tightens and freshens the skin.”

Do you use it? I asked jokingly.

“No,” Richard retorted, “but I told some of the models who pose for me about it, and they say it’s wonderful.”

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