For all his subsequent role in elevating it to a sublime art form not withstanding, Richard Avedon was never comfortable with fashion photography. He wanted to be remembered as a great artist or portraitist, even if that involved playing down the half-century of fashion magazine work he did for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue as little more than a day job.
The above photo, Elise Daniels with the Street Performers, was one of his earlier works. Avedon interestingly fuses street photography with fashion in this photo, which shows he was influenced by the great Parisian street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassai.
Whether you see the model or the contortionist first in the photo is perhaps debatable, but it is undeniable that this photo exists in the realm between the artificial and the everyday. Wearing a broad “picture” hat and a Balenciaga suit, Elise stands akimbo by a table comandeered as a stage by a contortionist while a weight lifter and a horn player do their things. Her beauty was as huge an aberration of nature as their freakishness to Avedon, who portrayed the model as an alien among aliens, ogled at by normal Parisians.
A rarely seen alternate shot (below) has two acrobats, one doing a handstand on the other’s hand, rounding out the group. I have posted this photo before on IP, but I saw the second photo in a dentistry recently and thought I should repost it.