In response to:
Everybody Knows My Name from the December 17, 1964 issue
To the Editors:
As a friend of Richard Avedon’s, and as the writer who wrote the text accompanying his first collection of photographs Observations, I was of course interested in Robert Brustein’s recent review of his second book, Nothing Personal—with text by James Baldwin. Interested, and startled.
Brustein is an intelligent man: a theater critic of the first quality, one of only three this reader can read with a sense of stimulation. But surely Brustein’s comments regarding the Avedon-Baldwin collaboration is as distorted and cruel as he seems to find Avedon’s photographs.
Causes for complaint occur in almost every line; too many to protest them all. But why does Brustein attack the book because it is a handsome piece of bookmaking?—would he rather it was printed on paper-toweling? (Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, Penn’s Moments Preserved are both more lavishly designed.)
Brustein accuses Avedon of distorting reality. But can one say what is reality in art?—“an artist,” to repeat Picasso, “paints not what he sees, but what he thinks about what he sees.” This applies to photography—provided the photographer is an artist, and Avedon is: one of the half-dozen photographers who could be so-called, as is generally recognized by those in a far better position to judge than either Brustein or myself.
But of Brustein’s many injustices, the most unjust is in his depicting Avedon as merely an “affluent” fashion-photographer whose main motivation in assembling this book was to exploit the American desire for self-denigration and, so to say, cash in. Balls. First of all, if the publisher of this book sold every copy, he would still lose money. Neither Baldwin nor Avedon will make twenty cents. Brustein is entitled to think that Avedon and Baldwin are misguided; but believe me he is quite mistaken when he suggests, as he repeatedly does, that they are a pair of emotional and financial opportunists.
Brooklyn, N. Y.
January 28, 1965