Avedon's Santa Monica Beach


Among the truly stellar highlights in Swann's April 4 auction of 19th & 20th Century Photographs & Photobooks is Richard Avedon's Santa Monica Beach #2, California, September 30, 1963, a silver print with Avedon's signature, in ink, on recto, 1963.


This image appears in the classic Avedon photobook, Nothing Personal, which features remarkable text by his childhood friend, the author James Baldwin. The book is a dynamic blend of Avedon's penetrating portraits and Baldwin's tough, lyrical prose that examines America and Americans at a crossroads. There are period images of Civil Rights leaders, politicians on the left and the right, a man born into slavery, saluting Nazis, Allen Ginsberg and the Daughters of the American Revolution. 


Avedon's penultimate photograph, which was taken on Santa Monica beach, offers a loving, tender finale to what is otherwise an uncomfortable, jittery visual narrative. The woman and child depicted here grasp each other as they gaze out over the open ocean. The advancing wave and implied expanding space beyond come across as both menacing and promising. Baldwin's beautiful text crystallizes the moment, which is a personal commentary about the political tumult of the 1960s: "For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock […] The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out." 


The image, so unlike the white-ground, stark portraiture associated with Avedon, seems somehow closer to the photographer's personal eye, while never straying from his overarching vision and rare ability to both capture a compelling portrait and the deep, extraordinary essence of his subject. 


This unique print is quite rare, and, to our knowledge, has never appeared at auction before.

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