A portrait of Michael Avedon
Words Christina Faaborg
Photography Michael Avedon
He is drawn by the beauty of the past but it is the present that arouses his need to create. Michael Avedon, the young photographer with the very famous last name, has already been noticed by Carine Roitfeld and has been voted one of the most influential young people in art by Forbes Magazine. At only 22, he has had spreads in leading magazines like Dazed & Confused Magazine, V Man and Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book. Avedon is a thriving and passionate young man, who articulates strong statements and a moral and life thesis that set new trends in a world where passion is widely neglected as a driving force.
Despite all the fuss about him, Michael Avedon is not walking around with his head in the clouds. Every day he works hard to become even better. “The goal is to never be satisfied, to keep pushing it more and more in every photograph. Living life through passion but with the mentality that the best photograph will be taken when I’m 84 or when I’m immortal.” he says. One thing is certain; he loves what he is doing, and that means continuing to explore his own artistic vision.
Nonetheless, Michael definitely does not disregard the value of learning from others to continue to improve. This is one of the reasons why he stayed a student of the International Center of Photography in NYC. “Regarding my photography, I have been sort of growing within myself, and I’ve been a student of the city and of the faces I photograph. But the International Center of Photography most certainly offered a lot of creative discussion, a lot of great critique, and it was a great platform to grow technically in areas such as studio lightning, printing in dark room, and learning Photoshop.”
Michael draws his inspiration from the streets, and from every medium that works with the human face. He also cites Picasso, Caravaggio, Irving Penn and photographer Edward Steichen as artists that stimulate his artistic expression. “Steichen is a big influence to me, because I love how he has a narration between his poetry and his photographs.”
Michael mainly shoots his pictures on film with a 120 mm old-school Rolleiflex camera or with a small-size 35 mm format, not only because he loves the look of analogue photos, but also due to the exhilarating mystery of not knowing what the result will be before developing it. “I have been working a bit digitally with the thing I did for Versace with Dazed & Confused Magazine. I am so addicted to the beauty and the process of film, that it would be a hard transition… I will always keep film alive.”
This may be a sign of his reverence to the past, but take it also as his artistic perspective in the present. “It is also the image the film camera produces, it’s just richer in the way it works with light, the way light goes through the lens – and I like the beautiful anxiety it offers when you do not know your final result, and therefore have to be really cautious of that, and premeditate every photograph while working through spontaneity.” This also explains why he hardly ever retouches his photos, a characteristic of his photographic style.
More Than Just a Name
Michael insists he has always followed his own voice and interests. Of course his famous grandfather has inspired him, but it was never assumed that Michael, too, would become a photographer. “One is a product of one’s childhood, but I also always followed my own path. At a young age I was already interested in films, acting, and eventually it drifted towards painting and photography. When I found interest in a person or a movement I became very enthusiastic and wanted to know everything there was to know about it. So I had lots of passions as a kid. I grew up in New York City, which is a very creative city with a lot of madness and beauty.”
Michael remembers his childhood as a great time growing up with his maternal grandmother in an Upper West Side apartment right next to Central Park. “When I was a child, I think, my dream was to be a professional surfer.” And to the question if this still is his dream, he answers with a smile in his voice: “No, I am happy to be a photographer, but of course I would love to be a professional surfer as well. I still surf all the time,” he says with a very genuine passion in his voice. “I am a surf/ocean enthusiast, but you cannot be a pro surfer from New York City,” he laughs.
It is no secret that Michael is the grandson of Richard Avedon, one of the world’s most famous photographers; and when Michael is mentioned in, for example, an article, you can be most certain, that his iconic paternal grandfather is also mentioned. But how is it to always be compared to another person when all you want is your own identity?
“It is an honour – I mean, he was an amazing, genius photographer and I do not put myself in those shoes. His work is not my work, and I think many people will never make the kind of work he did. He was a true master of the face. And somehow someway I am also drawn to the face photographically, not just for the sake of carrying on legacy, but I feel most fascinated and comfortable about the face as well. I think it is nice someone in the family is carrying on the photographical legacy.” Naturally Michael feels a little pressure being mentioned as the new Avedon, but at the same time he does not feel he is going to be another Avedon; and therefore he says the pressure is a feeling that other people hold on his behalf.
“I photograph because I love to photograph. And of course I would like people to talk about my work and not all about him. But it is a different generation and a different time, so there is no risk of me just taking over his work. Although I definitely get some inspiration from him.”
Richard Avedon passed away before Michael was a teenager, and it’s true his grandfather has indeed meant a lot to him, “I am fascinated by his work and I am one of his biggest admirers. But I picked up the camera in my own time. I just fell in love with it. I guess I was around 18 when I started taking photos. I think he would be happy that I am photographing.” (…)