Mel Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn, and Truman Capote

Richard Avedon American

Not on view

Universally considered the best known fashion photographer of the 1950s, Richard Avedon accepted a friendly challenge in 1957 from his editorial colleagues at Esquire magazine. They wanted him to prove what he had long argued that artistic talent in photography would not be restrained by any camera’s technical limitations, even ones provided by a typical drugstore automatic photobooth that generates a picture and a print in less than three minutes. In November 1957, Esquire published “25c A Celebrity,” which features Avedon’s instant photobooth portraits of A-list types from Marilyn Monroe and Willie Mays to Audrey Hepburn, seen here. The feature was explicitly coordinated to promote Funny Face, the 1957 Stanley Donen film with Fred Astaire as a fashion photographer (a role loosely based on Avedon) and Audrey Hepburn as a bookstore clerk turned unwitting fashion model.

Avedon poses Hepburn sandwiched tightly between Mel Ferrer (her actor husband) and Truman Capote, the author who would make her a star all over again in the adaptation of his novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1959). The trio exude an elegant cool despite the cozy circumstances. With a quarter and a wink, Avedon suggests, anyone could be a celebrity, or a photographer. The famous auteur did little more than invite his sitters into a curtained closet, direct their attention, then drop a coin in the slot. Everything else—the lighting, framing, and printing—was beyond his control. Although exceptionally small (just three inches in height), it somehow manages (as Avedon claimed it would) to hold our attention and predates by some four years Andy Warhol’s own experiments with the automatic photobooth at the dawn of the Pop era.

Mel Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn, and Truman Capote, Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923–2004 San Antonio, Texas), Gelatin silver print

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