Richard Avedon: Family Affairs on view at National Museum of American Jewish History

by | Jun 8, 2015 | Other News

Located in Philadelphia, just a five-hour drive from Virginia Beach, the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) is the only U.S. venue to feature Richard Avedon: Family Affairs, from the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The exhibition presents a compelling collective historical portrait of American cultural and political life during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Richard Avedon was born to a Jewish family (his father was a Russian-born immigrant and his mother from New York) in 1923. Working until his death in 2004, he shaped America’s image of beauty, celebrity and politics for over a half century. Famous at an early age, he was well known for challenging conventions and exploring the boundaries between high art and social commentary. Family Affairs features two monumental projects by Avedon, both illustrating his highly innovative approach to portrait photography. The first is a set of four group portraits, including a massive mural of the iconic beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his family and three additional portraits shown at a smaller scale Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory, The Chicago Seven, and The Mission Council. The second is a series of 69 portraits entitled “The Family” that Avedon created after being commissioned by Rolling Stone to cover the 1976 presidential election. Foregoing traditional photojournalism for the assignment, Avedon used his Deardorff 8 x 10” camera to create arresting black and white portraits of each of his subjects.

Avedon created a visual essay on the nature of American politics at the moment when it was most conspicuous. Though his “family members” have no biological ties (with the exception of Ted and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy), they are alike in that they all hold positions of power and influence. “The Family” includes the ’76 presidential candidates (Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford); A.M. Rosenthal, managing editor of the New York Times, famous for publishing the Pentagon Papers; and W. Mark Felt, later revealed to be “Deep Throat.” Avedon’s subjects also included others at the epicenter of the events and movements of the time (and some who still are today)—including governors, senators, congressmen/women, and a wide swath of varied government officials (Bella Abzug, Jerry Brown, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Jordan, Edward Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Moynihan, and Donald Rumsfeld, to name a few), media moguls and journalists (Katharine Graham, I.F. Stone), labor leaders/ activists (Cesar Chavez, Ralph Nader, A Philip Randolph), philanthropists (Walter Annenberg), and many more.

“We are thrilled to be showing Richard Avedon: Family Affairs at NMAJH,” says Dr. Josh Perelman, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at NMAJH.

“Family Affairs documents a time of extraordinary political and social change in American history by one of the most significant photographers working in the second half of the 20th century. ‘The Family’ component of the exhibition, given its focus on political power in the days leading up to the 1976 election, seems particularly well-suited for exhibition in Philadelphia, the country’s epicenter for the bicentennial celebrations. And as the country prepares for a presidential election in 2016, the portraits evoke comparisons between the nature of political leadership then and now.”

To allow visitors to see “The Family” as it was originally published, NMAJH will provide multiple original copies of the Rolling Stone issue for visitors to flip through, as well as an electronic version via touchscreen.

Located on historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia at 101 South Independence Mall East at the corner of Fifth and Market Streets, NMAJH brings to life the 360-year history of Jews in America. For hours and tickets, visit or call 215.923.3811.