FORT WORTH, Texas --- On September 10, the Amon Carter Museum opens Laura Wilson: Avedon at Work, an exhibition of 64 photographs that Wilson took during the summers of 1979 through 1985 when she assisted Richard Avedon (1923--2004) on his groundbreaking project In the American West. The images, taken from Wilson’s book Avedon at Work: In the American West (2003), offer an insider’s look at Avedon creating the portraits for his In the American West project, which was commissioned by the Carter in 1979 and opened there on September 14, 1985. Wilson’s photographs provide an extraordinary context for viewing the concurrent 20th-anniversary reshowing of In the American West: Photographs by Richard Avedon, which opens at the Carter on September 17.
“Wilson’s photographs will take visitors on an invaluable behind-the-scenes tour of Richard Avedon’s project,” said John Rohrbach, the Carter’s senior curator of photographs. “She shows how Avedon worked out his ideas about portraying the West, how he interacted with his subjects, and even how he made the oversize prints that became the exhibition. Her work provides a superb complement to the Avedon exhibition.”
When Avedon was commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum to create the images that would become In the American West, he needed an assistant to scout photographic possibilities. He found such a person in Laura Wilson, a young Dallas photographer. She began by searching out public functions where large groups of people gathered, events such as the Rattlesnake Roundup held each March in Sweetwater, Texas. She also researched background information about economic conditions in oil, mining and agriculture, along with listings of fairs, carnivals and rodeos.
Once at the location, Wilson would seek out interesting-looking people, make suggestions to Avedon about subjects and approach people about the possibility of sitting for a portrait. During those six summers, Wilson approached 753 people; 752 agreed to sit. In the end, Avedon, Wilson and other assistants traveled through 13 states and 1,892 towns from Texas to Idaho.
“For me, it was a brilliant education,” Wilson said. “I was an apprentice in the classic tradition of art. Avedon seemed hardly to care about F-stops and shutter speeds. Rather, I learned what makes a powerful portrait. I became aware of those elements that give a portrait strength–the strength to hold up an entire wall of a museum.”
Once a sitting had been arranged, Wilson observed Avedon while he was working, often taking her own photographs with her 35mm camera. She thus became the de facto chronicler of the project from its start through its opening at the Carter in 1985. Many of Wilson ’s photographs in the exhibition will be accompanied by excerpts from her book.
Laura Wilson: Avedon at Work is on view at the Carter until January 8, 2006. Admission is free.