What Becomes a Legend Most by Philip Gefter

Photography critic Philip Gefter doesn’t waste any time placing Richard Avedon in the pantheon of greats, including Nadar, the 19th-century portrait photographer who captured the artists of Second Empire France in his Paris studio, Julia Margaret Cameron of Victorian England, the early-20th-century German photographer August Sander, and, of course, Irving Penn, to whom Avedon was linked throughout his career.

In the introduction to Gefter’s 672-page biography, What Becomes a Legend Most, the author also compares Avedon to portrait artists as varied as John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. This may seem like a stretch, especially given that photography was not elevated to the stature of art until more recently. But, as Gefter writes, like Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych or Sargent’s Madame X, Avedon’s portraits are “recognizably Avedons first, even before the viewer identifies his subject.”