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Lew Alcindor, basketball player, 61st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, New York, May 2, 1963

The settings for Avedon's fashion portraits are often as captivating as the models. Richard Avedon, Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, August 1965, gelatin silver print (printed 1979), The William Hood Dunwoody Fund and purchase through Art Quest 2001. ©The Richard Avedon Foundation

In his portraits Avedon wanted to capture something about each person that he or she was not trying to show. This portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe is famous because it shows her when she had stopped posing for the camera. Richard Avedon, Marilyn Monroe, Actress, May 6, 1957, gelatin silver print (printed 1970), The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund. © 2008 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Avedon's photograph of Lew Alcindor appeared in this spread in the April 1965 issue of Harper's Bazaar.

key idea
Fashion Forward

Pictures tell stories. Photographers, including Richard Avedon, make many choices in order to present their subjects as they want viewers to see them. Avedon recalled that as a boy his family planned all of their snapshots; they dressed up, posed in front of expensive cars and other people's homes, and even borrowed dogs to present the family as it wanted to be seen. They role-played for the photographs.

What words would you use to describe Lew Alcindor, a high school basketball player when this photograph was made in 1963? What do you see in the picture that brings those words to mind? This now-famous picture by world-famous photographer Richard Avedon has been interpreted in many different ways by art critics and others.

Does the knowledge that the photograph was taken by a famous fashion photographer change how you describe it? If so, in what ways? Though photographed in 1963, the picture first appeared in a fashion magazine filled with other photos by Avedon in 1965. In what ways is Avedon's picture of Lew Alcindor like images of fashion models?

Avedon posed the young Alcindor on a basketball court in an urban environment. The photograph's title locates the scene at 61st Street and Amsterdam Avenue in New York, then the address to Alcindor's high school, Power Memorial Academy. How does Avedon's decision to set the portrait in this urban environment influence the way you interpret or think about the photograph?

January 2012