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Detail of instruction's to the printer made by Ruedi Hoffmann based on Avedon's comments

Evidence 1944-1994 by Richard Avedon, Random House, 1994, p. 86: “Detail of Avedon’s instruction to the printer” [Amazon]
There are two things interesting to notice about those famous “instructions”:

  1. There are two different versions of them (for the same photo). The one shown above, published in Evidence 1944-1994 and the one shown below published in Avedon at Work. In The American West. By looking carefully at both images, one can notice small differences between them (compare for example the instructions for the right cheek , on the left side of the photo).
  2. As explained by Laura Wilson (see the quote reproduced below), there are good reasons to question the authorship of those instructions: the alleged “Avedon’s instructions” may not have been produced by Avedon after all, but from Ruedi Hofmann, his studio manager.

Photo and captions from Laura Wilson's book Avedon At Work (2003)
The black & white version of the printing instructions is from Avedon at Work. In The American West by Laura Wilson (2003 : 117 ; Amazon). Laura has a specific section on the printing process undertaken for the exhibition In The American West. She suggests that Avedon’s instructions were very general and that details for exposure were rather noted on test print (as seen above) by Ruedi Hofmann, Avedon’s studio manager :

The difficult and time-consuming process ok making these prints began in the basement darkroom of the Avedon studio in New York. Ruedi and David [Liittscwager] started with a set of 16-by-20 inch prints. Dick rejected them all. He felt that the tone was heavy; they were too black and had too much contrast. In reprinting, Dick’s directions were rarely technical. He would say simply, “Make the person more gentle,” or “Give the face more tension” This unconventional advice forced Ruedi and David to try to Understand the emotional content that Dick sought in each portrait. […] On test prints, Ruedi recorded the necessary manipulations with a red grease pencil. The exposure times, plus or minus, were in seconds to indicate where to darken or lighten an eyelid, or a nose, ot the wrinkle on a forehead.” (p. 114-117)

Laura Wilson was Richard Avedon’s assistant for six years (Wikipedia).

Lyal Burr, coal miner, and his sons Kerry and Phillip, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Koosharem, Utah, May 7, 1981
Lyal Burr, coal miner, and his sons Kerry and Phillip, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Koosharem, Utah, May 7, 1981

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You might also be interested in browsing the “Photography” category of this archive. Among other things, you’ll find David Dawson’s portrait of painter Lucian Freud working at night in his studio, two posts about Canadian photographer Gabor Szilasi [1] [2], an entry about William Eggleston’s Los Alamos Project, information about Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, Bruce Davidson’s touching portrait of a dwarf clown (from the Circus series), a lengthy post about Canadian photographer John Max and his series Open Passport (about which Robert Frank once said: “It is the work of a most passionate and honest human being that happens to be a photographer.”), a photo from Martin Parr’s series Bored Couples, André Kertész iconic photograph of the World Trade Center (from 1972), and much more.

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