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Photography and Public Image

Today, the identity of a notable figure or celebrity may be largely crafted through photographic images.

Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York

Richard Avedon
(American, 1923–2004)

1957. Gelatin silver print, printed 1989, 7 15/16 x 7 13/16" (20.2 x 19.8 cm)

Richard Avedon aimed to reveal the true personalities of celebrities in his portraits. Recalling a portrait session with Marilyn Monroe that took place in his studio in May 1957, Avedon said, “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s—she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.”1 Avedon was able to capture one of the most photographed stars with her public façade down. In doing so, this photograph shares a rarely seen glimpse into Monroe’s inner life.

Richard Avedon portraits. Essays by Maria Morris Hambourg, Mia Fineman and Richard Avedon; foreword by Philippe de Montebello. New York: Harry N. Abrams: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A representation of a particular individual.

A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.

Keep it simple
This portrait, like most taken by Avedon, features a spare backdrop. Avedon said, “I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.”