Darkness and Light

Sometimes the smallest tips can open doors to the most interesting things. The other day I found one such tip from Austin Kleon on using filtered Twitter searches to discover new-to-you bits of culture. Being a curious person by nature, I'm constantly Googling random things as I traverse the web, but searching Twitter had never crossed my mind.

It's a clever idea and it just so happens I'm on a Richard Avedon kick, so I gave it a try. Not surprisingly a decent list of tweets popped up, several of which linked to a documentary about him called Darkness and Light. This was a surprise. I'd done a bit of reading on Avedon and poked around his work before, but this was new (to me)! So off I went to watch.

In contrast to what some on Twitter said about it, I don't think this film was meant to inspire. At least not in the warm-and-fuzzy way most people associate with inspiration. It won't solve any creative problems, help you find your style or teach you a new workflow either. What you will get from this film is a glimpse into the mind of a pioneer, and arguably one of the most influential photographers of all time.

Even if you don't like his work, the film (along with Avedon himself) acknowledges that photography isn't always about making something beautiful, telling a story or even capturing the truth. At least it wasn't for him. It was about making the viewer think. It was about making them feel something. Avedon certainly achieved that.

What resonated most with me was the commentary from his critics, colleagues and people who have sat for him. Avedon's own account of certain projects, and his stance on how he wanted his work to be "disturbing", is enough to give any photographer a lot to think about. 

I have only one nit-pick about Darkness and Light, which was the excessive use of voiceovers. During various montages, uncredited opinions of Avedon's work (both good and bad) continuously interrupted one another. I found it very distracting. That said, it did not diminish what is otherwise a fascinating and unflinching look at Avedon's legacy. In fact I watched it twice over the weekend... and thanks to Austin I will be using Twitter search as a discovery tool more often! Give it a try for yourself. After you enjoy the film of course. ;)