The Family, 1976 | Richard Avedon

Early  in 1976, with both the post-Watergate and the approaching bicentennial in mind, Rolling Stone asked Richard Avedon to cover the presidential primaries and the campaign trail. Avedon counter-proposed a grander idea — he had always wanted to photograph the men and women he believed to have constituted political, media and corporate elite of the United States.

For the next several months, Avedon traversed the country from migrant grape fields of California to NFL headquarters in Park Avenue and returned with an amazing portfolio of soldiers, spooks, potentates, and ambassadors that was too late for the bicentennial but published in Rolling Stone’s Oct. 21, 1976, just in time for the November elections.

Sixty-nine black-and-white portraits were in the signature style Richard Avedon was famous for: formal, intimate, bold, and minimalistic. It opened with the scowling John deButts — the chairman of AT&T — who had just embarked on a decade-long, eventually doomed fight to prevent his corporation from being broken up under anti-trust rules. The next two pages featured two men considered to wield outright influence on American politics of the day: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Mike Mansfield, Democrat of Montana, the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader (1961 – 1977).

Appearing in them are President Ford and his three immediate successors — Carter, Reagan, and Bush. Other familiars of the American polity such as Kennedys and Rockefellers are here, and as are giants who held up the nation’s Fourth Pillar during that challenging decade: A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times who decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, and Katharine Graham who led Woodward and Bernstein at Washington Post. Their source, Deep Throat, is also present: W. Mark Felt, the former associate director of the FBI, although he won’t reveal that fact until 2005 — the year after Avedon himself died. 

It is also clear here that apart from a handful of civil rights leaders and eminent wives, the pantheon of 1976 was mostly white, mostly male, mostly besuited, and mostly elderly. Yet, there are some familiar contemporary names amongst its younger members — the activist Ralph Nadar, 42; Jerry Brown, 38, then and future the governor of California; Donald Rumsfeld, 44, then and future Secretary of Defense.

Consciously or otherwise, absent were the supreme court justices and the man whose resignation made this portfolio possible. Instead, Avedon convinced Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods to pose for him.

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13 thoughts on “The Family, 1976 | Richard Avedon

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