In his acclaimed portraits, Richard Avedon captured the iconic figures of the twentieth century in his starkly bold, intimately minimal, and forensic visual style. Concurrently, his work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue transformed the ideals of women's fashion, femininity, and culture to become the defining look of an era. Yet despite his driving ambition to gain respect in the art world, during his lifetime he was condescendingly dismissed as a celebrity photographer. What Becomes a Legend Most is the first definitive biography of this luminary--an intensely driven man who endured personal and professional prejudice, struggled with deep insecurities, and mounted an existential lifelong battle to be recognized as an artist.
Avedon’s trajectory bears a notable resemblance to that of the writer he claimed as a defining influence: Marcel Proust, an interloper among swans who in mining their world for poetry produced a work of profound insight and enduring beauty. Although not drawn by Gefter, a former New York Times journalist and the author of several volumes on photography, this analogy squares with his stated “belief in Avedon as one of the most consequential artists of the 20th century.' Accordingly, his aim in What Becomes a Legend Most is 'to make a case for Avedon’s place of achievement alongside his peers in the pantheon of 20th-century arts and letters.' ... Read in the context of our own precarious political and ecological moment, this assessment alone argues eloquently for the abiding, even urgent relevance of Avedon’s imperfect Art.
Incontrovertibly Philip Gefter did his homework when it came to writing about the lives, both professional and personal, of Richard Avedon. Gefter goes into overdrive to the point of minutiae overload ... Upon reading What Becomes a Legend Most, this reader was most conflicted by whether or not he was really reading a biography of a great lensman or a psychological study and assessment of what made Avedon tick and what his mental conflicts were ... The absolute glut of details might be more harmful than beneficial when it comes to enjoying this book. Gefter’s accounting of Avedon can certainly not be discounted as authoritative, but it might be possible to think to what end it was necessary to expose Avedon in such a way? Did it diminish his talents or possibly enhance them as an artist?
... wise and ebullient ... Gefter takes the reader inside so many of Avedon’s photo shoots, and so deftly explicates his work, that you’re thirsty to sate your eyes with Avedon’s actual images ... One of the achievements of Gefter’s biography is to argue persuasively for Avedon’s place, as a maker of portraits, as one of the 20th century’s most consequential artists ... Gefter selects the right photo sessions to linger over ... Gefter’s prose is unshowy but supple.