This meticulous reprint of Richard Avedon and James Baldwin’s Nothing Personal explores the complexities and contradictions still at the center of the American experience – especially timely in the age of Donald Trump. Deploying both image and text, Avedon and Baldwin examine the formation of identity, and the bonds that both underlie and undermine human connection.
In 1963-64, former high school friends Richard Avedon, at the time one of the world’s most famous photographers, and James Baldwin, best-selling novelist and essayist and a leading literary voice in the American civil rights movement, collaborated on Nothing Personal, a book about the state of life in America.
Avedon’s subjects range from civil rights icons, to intellectuals, politicians, pop singers, patients in a mental institution, and ordinary Americans, all carefully juxtaposed, cropped, and tightly sequenced. Here, the American Nazi Party contends with poet Allen Ginsberg, and a weary General Eisenhower gives way to the sway of Malcolm X. Depleted mental institution patients call out for human warmth, and are followed by the embrace of mother and child.
Baldwin’s four-part essay offers a critique of a society that is disconnected, unjust and divisive, and therefore in the midst of an existential crisis. In a highly personal and pertinent testimony, he writes about his own experience of harassment by a racist police officer in his native New York City. Yet Baldwin, like Avedon, ends his work with the inescapable need for – and power of – love.
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