Center for Creative Photography

The University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography was at the center of the fashion world as CCP Chief Curator Rebecca Senf led fashion designer and icon Donatella Versace and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour through the exhibition “Richard Avedon Relationships” at the opening reception to kick off Fashion Week in Milan, Italy, on Sept. 22.

The exhibition, which Senf curated with works from the CCP archives, opened Sept. 22 and will run through Jan. 29, 2023 in the epic Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) that is visited by half a million visitors a year. 

The exhibition including over 100 prints featuring Avedon’s early and late fashion, portraits of performers, artists, politicians, and includes a special “Vogue” room with Avedon’s magazine covers as well as images from Avedon’s creative work for Versace, exhibition sponsor, from their fashion advertising campaigns.

Senf gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the exhibition and the Center for Creative Photography‘s long relationship with the photography icon, Richard Avedon.

Palazzo Reale | Richard Avedon Relationships

CCP’s “Richard Avedon Relationships” on display in Milan

What was Richard Avedon’s relationship with CCP like?

Richard Avedon really valued the CCP. He choose the Center as the home for his archive during his lifetime and gifted almost 400 photographs from his career to our collection. He believed that the Center, with its purpose-built building, its expert staff, its deep understanding of the history of the photographic medium, and its dedication to telling photography’s history was the place he could entrust his legacy. When the Center’s current building opened, he was there to reveal that he’d chosen the CCP for his archive. It was incredibly exciting!” 

Senf first curated the exhibition, “Richard Avedon Relationships” for the CCP galleries, which ran from Dec. 14, 2018 to May 10, 2019.

“It was then that I began to think about how Avedon’s portraits are really different when it’s a single figure versus multiple figures – in some ways like the difference between dinner with a friend versus a dinner party. In a single portrait you’re completely focused on that person and all the details of their appearance, expressions, body language. But with multiple figures there is something happening between the people in the frame. They’re reacting to each other and Avedon manages to show the individuals in the picture *and* the way they relate to one another.”

What’s it like to piece together a cohesive, thematic story from an archives? 

“I often compare creating an exhibition to writing a term paper. You start with a hypothesis and then you look for evidence. If there’s enough, you refine your hypothesis into a thesis. Then you gather all the evidence and see which elements make the strongest case for your argument, editing away less powerful examples. Then you create text that makes your evidence clear and compelling and ties it all together. An exhibition is a similar process – you start with an idea and see if there are prints that uphold that concept.”

Had you been to Milan before?

“I had never even been to Italy before! It was pretty wonderful to experience a new city and culture and get to work with a talented group of Italian colleagues – my co-workers there were such passionate, talented, and collaborative people. It was an incredible pleasure. It was fascinating to see how things are done differently in Milan, but part of that was just the prominence of the Palazzo Reale as an exhibition venue.”

How would you describe the space?

“The venue was stunning! It’s right next to the Milan Duomo, the massive cathedral right in the city center. The architecture is so monumental and impressive. The Palazzo Reale was the seat of medieval mayors and Renaissance dukes – a grand and massive series of impressively ornate rooms. The exhibition took place on the second floor – up a grand staircase.”

What was your reaction to the VIP Reception and all of the media attention?

“I spent the morning doing television, magazine, and newspaper interviews with reporters. I had been wired for sound, placed in front of photographs, showered with bright lights, and photographed and recorded on video. I spoke about who Avedon was, about what was new in this particular exhibition, about favorite photographs, about the relationship between Richard Avedon and Gianni Versace.

“I returned home to change for the evening and then was back at the Palazzo Reale as we waited for our guests of honor – Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, and Donatella Versace to arrive. I have to admit it was really exciting to have Wintour and Versace there! We also had the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, in attendance, along with lots of other dignitaries. 

“The VIP reception made me feel like some combination of a curator and a princess (we were in a royal palace after all). The whole day was a dream experience. That morning we had a press conference with a panel of speakers. I was one of the speakers (working with an Italian translator) and it was amazing. I had never seen a museum press event with so many people in attendance – it must have been between 75 and 100 people there to learn about the exhibition.

“It was like a dream – I could hardly believe it had all happened. And I’ve been floating for the weeks since then.

“It’s incredibly gratifying for a curator to create an exhibition that people want to see and that I know conveys ideas about photography and about Avedon that will encourage people to look closely and to think about the medium. It’s a rich experience and I’m so grateful to know I helped create this opportunity for museum visitors in Milan from the collection at the CCP at the University of Arizona in Tucson.”