Richard Avedon: Family Affairs at The National Museum of American Jewish History

Image above: ©Richard Avedon, Allen Ginsberg's Family, Paterson, New Jersey, May 3, 1970.


The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia will be the only US venue to feature Richard Avedon: Family Affairs, from the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The exhibition, which opens on April 1 and runs through August 2, presents a compelling collective historical portrait of American cultural and political life during the late 1960s and 1970s.

avedon2Images above: ©Richard Avedon, (left) Walter Annenberg, publisher, Radnor, Pennsylvania; (right) Katharine Graham, Chairman of the Board, the Washington Post. Courtesy of NMAJH.


Richard Avedon was born to a Jewish family (his father was a Russian-born immigrant and his mother from New York) in 1923. Working until his death in 2004, he shaped America’s image of beauty, celebrity, and politics for over a half century. Famous at an early age, he was well-known for challenging conventions and exploring the boundaries between high art and social commentary. Family Affairs features two monumental projects by Avedon, both illustrating his highly innovative approach to portrait photography. The first is a set of four group portraits, including a massive mural of the iconic beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his family and three additional portraits shown at a smaller scale ― Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory, The Chicago Seven, and The Mission Council. The second is a series of 69 portraits entitled “The Family” that Avedon created after being commissioned by Rolling Stone to cover the 1976 presidential election. Foregoing traditional photojournalism for the assignment, Avedon used his Deardorff 8 x 10” camera to create arresting black and white portraits of each of his subjects. Avedon created a visual essay on the nature of American politics at the moment when it was most conspicuous.

Avedon Spread 1Images above: ©Richard Avedon, (left) George Bush, Director, CIA, Langley, Virginia, March 2, 1976; (right) Barbara Jordan, U.S. Congresswoman (Texas), New York, July 14, 1976. Courtesy of NMAJH.


Though his “family members” have no biological ties (with the exception of Ted and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy), they are alike in that they all hold positions of power and influence. “The Family” includes the ’76 presidential candidates (Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford); A.M. Rosenthal, managing editor of the New York Times, famous for publishing the Pentagon Papers; and W. Mark Felt, later revealed to be “Deep Throat.” Avedon’s subjects also included others at the epicenter of the events and movements of the time (and some who still are today)—including governors, senators, congressmen/women, and a wide swath of varied government officials (Bella Abzug, Jerry Brown, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Jordan, Edward Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Moynihan, and Donald Rumsfeld, to name a few), media moguls and journalists (Katharine Graham, I.F. Stone), labor leaders/activists (Cesar Chavez, Ralph Nader, A Philip Randolph), philanthropists (Walter Annenberg), and many more.

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