Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967


Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967, 1967, collage of gelatin silver prints, 40.6 x 59.1 cm (Collection of The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York)

Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967, 1967, collage of gelatin silver prints, 40.6 x 59.1 cm (Collection of The Richard Avedon Foundation, New York)

Avedon and Hepburn

A bouquet of five variously sized Audrey Hepburn faces emerge from impossibly elongated necks, shrouded in light-absorbing black amorphous knit, like an organic rhizome sending up oddly shaped flowers. This obviously manipulated composite photograph (made by cutting and pasting photographs together two decades before Photoshop would be invented) compels us to look closer while offering the reward of Audrey Hepburn’s celebrated visage—she is third on the American Film Institute’s Greatest Female Screen Legends—with five slightly different glamorous expressions. [1]

We recognize the familiar fashionable face, lightened dramatically and adorned with lush, exaggerated false eyelashes, plucked arches for eyebrows, Hepburn’s signature large eyes, a faraway glance—and, befitting for the late 1960s—pale, lipstick-coated lips. The tallest of the Audrey Hepburn flowers features gently closed eyelids. Some faces are slightly more upturned than others, some mouths are just barely open, while others are closed. Some Hepburn faces edge toward three-quarter profile, while others are closer to full-face views. Nevertheless, they are all standard-issue constructions of feminine beauty made, and challenged here, by one of fashion’s most celebrated photographers, Richard Avedon, who had photographed Hepburn for more than a decade before making his collage.

Avedon’s emphasis on Hepburn’s elongated neck recalls the graceful and sensuous distortions of Parmigianino’s Madonna of the Long Neck (c. 1535) and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque (1814). Like these artists, Avedon raises the question: Is this altered female form beautiful, or is it provocatively leaning—via its extreme distortion—toward caricature? Avedon’s composite photograph leaves viewers wondering if his representation of fashion and movie icon Hepburn subtly critiques the very beauty standards that fashion photography celebrated (or does he further encourage them)?

Original maquette of gelatin silver prints and Mylar, 1967

Collage of gelatin silver prints and Mylar, 1967

From a composite photograph

Avedon never made this image for use in a fashion publication (which would not have been appropriate for such a parody of beauty standards), but as an experimental illustration for a class he taught. In 1967, Avedon shot images of Hepburn and female dress forms in silhouette, re-sized them, and assembled them into the composite design while he was teaching at the Famous Photographer’s School in Westport, Connecticut, a correspondence school for photography that featured prominent faculty members such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman, and Irving Penn. The curriculum offered hardbound volumes with a total of twenty-four illustrated lessons that were sold by subscription and mailed to students across the United States. Avedon created the collage as an example of composite photography for an assignment.

The collage reproduced here was a guide for his printers. To make the final image (see large image, above), Avedon worked with technician Bob Bishop, who retouched and printed the final images, added a darkened shared body for all of the Hepburn faces, and obscured the seams of his construction with an airbrushed sheet of Mylar that he laid over the collaged prints.

The resulting image was printed in the premier issue of Famous Photographers magazine. In the accompanying article, Avedon traced his interest in photographic collage back to “years of looking at contact sheets and being limited by the reality of what was in front of the camera.” [2] It is unclear whether the garment that cloaks Hepburn’s head, neck, and body was worn by the model/actress or if it was the fantasy product of Avedon’s black marking pen; it forms a dense black featureless silhouetted shape, reserving all focus for her more-important face.

Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire as Jo Stockton and Dick Avery in the film Funny Face, directed by Stanley Donen, 1957

Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire as Jo Stockton and Dick Avery in the film Funny Face, directed by Stanley Donen, 1957

Richard Avedon, fashion photographer

By 1967, Avedon was well-established as a fashion photographer, having worked at Harper’s Bazaar and then as a staff photographer and Lead Photographer at Vogue. He was so well-known that he was the prototype for the Dick Avery character played by Fred Astaire in the 1957 musical Funny Face. Avedon worked on the film and provided the fashion still-photography frames that were integrated into the plot. Hepburn was romantically paired in the film with Astaire, thirty years her senior. While the film has not aged well due to the age gap between the romantic couple, their May-December romance, and the dated gender roles in it, Funny Face made the point that the fashion industry was regarded as superficial.

Avedon and Warhol

For Avedon, embracing the superficiality of fashion photography was paramount: “My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues.” [3] Avedon, like artist Andy Warhol, was fascinated by surface-deep cultural phenomena such as celebrity, and the two were paired in a Gagosian London exhibition in 2016.

The fascination with celebrities and star power that Avedon shared with Warhol conditioned both the making of this composite photograph as well as its reception. If the repeated face, a compositional conceit Warhol shared, had not been the identifiably famous face of Hepburn emphatically reproduced by Avedon, and further disseminated by the media—this experimental photograph might not still resonate with us in the twenty-first century.

 

Notes:
[1] “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars: The 50 Greatest American Screen Legends – Women,” American Film Institute

[2] Richard Avedon as quoted in Mia Fineman, Falkng it: Manipilated Photography before Photoshop (National Gallery 2012), p. 167.

[3] Richard Avedon as quoted in Cynthia Freeland, Portraits and Persons: A Philosophical Inquiry (Oxford University Press USA, 2010), 97.


Additional resources

The Richard Avedon Foundation

Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light, directed by Helen Whitney (PBS: American Masters, Eagle Rock Entertainment, WNET Channel 13, New York, 1996)

Emily Ackerman, “Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967,” in Mia Fineman, ed. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012), p. 156, 246.

Cite this page as: Dr. Gretchen Gasterland-Gustafsson, "Richard Avedon, Audrey Hepburn, New York, January 1967," in Smarthistory, August 24, 2021, accessed September 21, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/richard-avedon-audrey-hepburn-new-york-january-1967/.