PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Dallas September 2023

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has an assistant director, and that's what I was … I did choose some of the subjects. One time, we had gone to a coal mine. I saw a miner going underground in the morning, and I thought, 'Gosh, he's got an amazing face. He's great. He's perfect.' So, I spoke to him. "When you finish your shift, may we photograph you?" He nodded. Eight hours later, when the shift was over — we wanted to photograph him covered in the day's work — the miners came up in a rush to shower and then left. I had told Dick about him. But I didn't see him. I went to the foreman and told him who I was looking for, and he said, "Oh, he didn't want to be photographed, so he slipped out." I was very disappointed. I went back to Dallas for a few days, and Dick stayed two or three days longer. He went to a Mormon church on Sunday, and he was looking around at the congregation. That was his reason for going; I won't say it was so much a spiritual reason. The miner I had wanted to photograph was there, but Dick didn't know that. As church ended, Dick went up to him and said, "You know, I would really like to photograph you." He said, "I can't believe it. I tried to get away from the woman who was with you." So that's how in sync we were. That was in Utah. The man is in the book. He has a wonderful face. He's standing with his two sons on either side of them. It was very lucky for both of us that I had a very good eye. It just happened that my personality and my vision synced with Dick's. CA: These are photos that have kismet, a serendipity. LW: But it was very planned. I spent the year preparing for shoots. I mapped out every day, because we had no time to waste. Dick was supporting a big studio in New York, and he was at the height of his career. Every month, he had the cover of Vogue. Vanity Fair, GQ, and other major magazines. He wasn't lackadaisical. There was no sense of 'Well, if it works, fine. If it doesn't work, that's fine.' No, it had to work. CA: There was a lot to process and plan. LW: Dick was commissioned for five years, but the project extended into the sixth year. It was a fantastic education for me. Could you imagine anything better if you were someone like me, obsessed with the American West and with photography in equal measure. So, to work with the world's most famous photographer, and to be in an area where I had historical knowledge but no real contemporary knowledge — I didn't know about uranium mines. I didn't know about slaughterhouses … I was learning things that were critical to what Dick wanted. He wanted to photograph the West now. He didn't want a romantic extension of a John Ford movie. CA: You actually kept diaries. And you photographed along the way. LW: That was something Dick said from the beginning: "Take pictures and keep a diary. When I do this book, I want you to write the text." He kept the pressure on. There was no mañana in his way of operating. He had worked all his life under deadlines. You know what that's like. Dick wanted me to be a part of it in a very substantive way — by keeping a diary, by recording it photographically, by making choices of who should be photographed, speaking to everyone. I was the one who went up to a subject — because it's much easier for a woman to go up to another woman, or man, and say, "That photographer, standing over there with the big camera, wants to take your picture" — and explain who he was and what he was doing. CA: Were the subjects intimidated in any way? LW: What's interesting is that people sense the importance of being photographed by that camera. It's a big camera, the Deardorff. And it's on a tripod, and there's white seamless background behind, with the photographer, me, and two assistants. It wasn't just a snapshot. And it wasn't a quick newspaper photograph. As important and memorable as snapshots are, this was something different. And people might have felt a little self-conscious, but when they got in front of the camera, the dignity and the vulnerability within the person came through. One time I said to a coal miner in Paonia, Colorado — this was five, six years later, when I called to ask him if he'd gotten a copy of the book and if he'd like to come to the exhibition — "Do you remember us?" And he said, "Yes, I do." Then I said, "What do you remember about being photographed?" He said, "My father died in the mine. My uncle died in the mine. And my brother died Richard Avedon's Gary Polson, Alvin Rowley, coal miners, Somerset, Colorado, 12/18/79 AMON CARTER MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, FORT WORTH; © THE RICHARD AVEDON FOUNDATION 124

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