Nicole Wisniak: Do you think a photographer is a person obsessed by the fact that things disappear?
Richard Avedon: I can’t generalize. All that remains of my father is my photograph, that is to say film, but I don’t think that’s why I photograph. I see all the time — I very often don’t listen. I can be in conversation with someone and at a certain point, stop hearing what is said, start pretending to listen. My good friends know when that happens.
The way I see is comparable to the way musicians hear, something extrasensory. Not judgmental. I don’t differentiate between an idea of what is beautiful and what is not. What I see is a reaffirmation of the many things I need to feel. It has to do with obsessive qualities, not explainable. I am a natural photographer. It is my language, I speak through my photographs more intricately, more deeply than with words.
N.W.: But this overdeveloped eye is sometimes pitiless. You reveal in your portraits facets of character that people would perhaps have preferred not to show. Do you think it is possible to hide one’s self in front of your camera?
R.A.: I am not necessarily interested in the secret of a person. The fact that there are qualities a
subject doesn’t want me to observe is an interesting fact. Interesting enough for a portrait. It then
becomes a portrait of someone who doesn’t want something to show. That is interesting. There is no truth in photography. There is no truth about anyone’s person. My portraits are much more about me than they are about the people I photograph. I used to think that it was a collaboration, that it was something that happened as a result of what the subject wanted to project and what the photographer wanted to photograph. I no longer think it is that at all. The photographer has complete control, the issue is a moral one and it is complicated. Everyone comes to the camera with
a certain expectation and the deception on my part is that I might appear to be indeed part of their expectation. If you are painted or written about, you can say: but that’s not me, that’s Bacon, that’s Soutine; that’s not me, that’s Celine.