Watch: Richard Avedon’s Most Daring Fashion Photograph
Dovima with Elephants is perhaps Richard Avedon’s most celebrated fashion portrait, epitomising the glamour and optimism of the decade in which it was taken.
Avedon’s formal training in photography began in 1944 at the Design Laboratory of The New School for Social Research in New York, under the tutelage of Alexey Brodovitch, Artistic Director of Harper’s Bazaar. Brodovitch recognised Avedon’s talent early on, and promoted his career, including some of his earliest works in issues of Harper’s Bazaar. From 1946 until 1965, Avedon was employed as a staff photographer at Harper’s Bazaar, during which time he injected a new energy into the magazine’s fashion photography.
Crucial to Avedon’s success was the model and muse, Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, known as Dovima, who collaborated with Avedon on numerous occasions, and who was always willing to go the extra mile to realise Avedon’s artistic visions. None more so than on this occasion where Dovima poses between three elephants at the Cirque d’Hiver, Paris. The photograph is perhaps the most daring of Avedon’s, who sought to bring a youthful vigour to fashion photography. Avedon rejected the traditional setting of the studio, choosing instead to photograph his models on city streets, or in this case the circus. Commissioned to photograph Christian Dior’s latest collection, which was the first to be designed by the young Yves Saint Laurent, Avedon juxtaposed the simple and elegant silhouette of the dress with the elephants’ enormous bodies.
The theatricality of the image reflects Avedon’s aims for fashion photography and its creative potential. As the world emerged from the aftermath of World War II into an era of greater social and economic prosperity, Avedon’s photographs reflected the decadence of the new decade.