Richard Avedon's In the American West is widely regarded as a landmark project in photographic history and a definitive expression of the power of photographic art.
For this project the photographer traveled throughout five years, meeting and photographing the plain people of the West: ranch workers, roustabouts, bar girls, drifters, and gamblers. The resulting book includes 120 exquisitely printed black-and-white photographs, an essay by Avedon on his working methods and portrait philosophy, a journal of the project by Laura Wilson, and a new foreword by John Rohrbach. The book was published in 1985 by Abrams.
Background: In the American West was originally the brainchild of the Amon Carter Museum’s first director, Mitchell A. Wilder. Richard Avedon had become world-famous for elevating fashion photography to an art form. But when Wilder saw Avedon’s July 4, 1978, portrait of a ranch foreman from Ennis, Mont., he asked the artist to continue making photographs of that type under the sponsorship of the Amon Carter Museum. He gave the photographer free license to photograph his view of the American West. Avedon agreed to Wilder’s proposal. From 1979 to 1984, he traveled through 13 states and 189 towns from Texas to Idaho, conducting 752 sittings and exposing 17,000 sheets of film through his 8-by-10-inch Deardorff view camera.
Focusing on the rural West, Avedon visited ranches and rodeos, but he also went to truck stops, oil fields, and slaughterhouses. Rather than playing to the western myths of grandeur and space, he sought out people whose appearance and life circumstances were the antithesis of mythical images of the ruggedly handsome cowboy, beautiful pioneer wife, dashing outdoor adventurer, or industry mogul. The subjects he chose for the portraits were more ordinary people, coping daily with personal cycles of boom and bust. Avedon focused on showing the various human frailties to the forefront. All of them were pictured against a seamless white backdrop that removed any reference to place, and many of the portraits were dramatically oversize, shocking in their stark detail. Visitors to the exhibition in 1985 came face-to-face with images that shattered stereotypes of a glorified region.
Printed and Bound In Japan.