Richard Avedon – In the American West

MD5800 – On Assignment 

Richard Avedon has to be one of my all time favorite photographers, up there with James Nachtwey and Don McCullin. I’ve been a fan of his work since I first saw his ‘In the American West’ series in the first year of college. My old college tutor Simon Rowe showed me a bit of his work which we needed to research for out Portrait module. From then on, I have been a fan of his simplistic approach and style in the way he photographed this series of images.

In the American West is a series of portraits of “ordinary” American people from 1979 – 1984 which shows a photographic record of miners, drifters, oil patch workers, slaughterhouse workers and other marginalized folk throughout western America. The harsh realism of these portraits of the western people provides a powerful, if bleak, record of working life in the region.

I love the way it’s shot. Plain white backdrop, natural sunlight exposure with strong think contrast, which portrays and highlights the emotion of the sitters, mixed with the everyday work clothing (or lack of) brings out the stark reality of the times that they live in.

The series was shot on 8×10 large format film and was photographed in a very simplistic manor, with just a white backdrop taped onto the wall of a barn/shed/house using only natural sunlight to illuminate the subjects.

Last year I tried to recreate Avedons style of work in the Studio using a single overhead softbox. It didn’t quiet go to plan, but I do like the results.

If I were to get it spot on, I would need to separate Conor from the background more and also make sure his white top doesn’t fade into the background.

Avedon is still and probably always will be one of my most influences when it comes to portrait photography.

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