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Jun 04, 2009

A guided tour through the fashion work of Richard Avedon by a woman who knew the enigmatic photographer as few ever did.

By David A. Ross

Despite being perhaps the most famous photographer of the 20th century, Richard Avedon was a very difficult man to know.

A complex combination of extraordinary visual imagination with equal parts chutzpah, he was a notorious task master who drove himself as hard as the people who worked for him.

An amazing performer and salesman with a vibrant and engaging personality, he could pass for gregarious, but was in fact extremely private, with a very a small circle of friends. Even his intimate friends saw only what Avedon wanted them to see.

Norma Stevens knew him better than most: she ran his day-to-day affairs for more than 30 years. She offers extraordinary insight into the man and his work, which is now on view in two major New York exhibitions: The Model as Muse at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Avedon Fashion: 1944–2000 at the International Center of Photography.

A fashion photographer first and arguably foremost, he gained renown as a portraitist, and Stevens went to work for him in the late 1970s, just as his work had gained recognition for its high artistry. A former advertising executive, she knew the fashion business inside out, having worked for years at Revlon and married Revlon advertising executive Martin Stevens.

Managing his growing reputation and body of work became a seven-day-a-week job, which gave her unmatched access to Avedon as a public figure, photographer and human being.

When Avedon died in 2004, he left instructions to create an educational foundation with the proceeds of his estate. For the past five years, Stevens has served as the executive director of the Richard Avedon Foundation, and has presided over a series of landmark exhibition in the U.S. and abroad that have continued to secure Avedon’s reputation as a great 20th-century artist.


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