EYE CANDY

The Unlikely Marriage of James Baldwin and Richard Avedon: A Look Back at Their Very Timely Collaboration

Marilyn Monroe, actress, May 1957.jpg
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

The genius in the collaboration of James Baldwin, eloquent chronicler of racism, and Richard Avedon, fashion’s foremost photographer, lay in the fact that it was so unexpected: Together, in 1964, they published Nothing Personal, a joint portrait of America at a time when playwrights like Arthur Miller were celebrities and Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death was still being felt deeply—which is why, just months after the Civil Rights Act was passed, Baldwin and Avedon placed their photos alongside those of mental institution patients and SNCC protestors, as well as, of course, Baldwin’s words, which warned that the country was “afflicted by an ignorance of our natures vaster and more dangerous than our ignorance of life on Mars.” It wasn’t the first time the pair collaborated—they actually went to the same high school in the Bronx in the late 1930s, where they worked on the same literary magazine—but their partnership has somehow been largely forgotten until this year, which has seen Pace and Pace/MacGill Galleries resurrect “Nothing Personal” into an exhibition now on view in New York, and Taschen finally republish the book, which has been out of print for decades, accompanied by a new essay by Hilton Als. Take a timely look back in time, here.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Marilyn Monroe, actress, May 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

The Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution, October 1963 (outtake). Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

William Casby, born in slavery, Algiers, Louisiana, March 24, 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Allen Ginsberg, poet, December 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Atlanta, Georgia, March 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Self-portrait with James Baldwin, September 1964. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, May 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Santa Monica Beach, September 30, 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Patients in a mental institution, Jackson, Louisiana, February 15, 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.

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© The Richard Avedon Foundation

George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, November 1963. Photograph by Richard Avedon.