The McCann Time Capsule: When the Agency Doubled as a ‘Gallery’

The McCann Time Capsule: When the Agency Doubled as a ‘Gallery’

Richard Avedon and Twiggy, photographer and model, Paris, April, 1967

Photograph by Richard Avedon

© The Richard Avedon Foundation

As part of Cadillac’s outreach to innovators, the GM division’s Cadillac House in NYC’s SoHo this month is featuring an exhibition of the work of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), “celebrating his 60 year-tenure as the preeminent fashion photographer who shaped contemporary image-making and international aesthetics.” While McCann New York’s office space itself might be considered an unusual gallery venue, it in fact was the site in November 1964 of a major Avedon photo exhibition, one about which a Popular Photography Magazine critic would write, “There has never been a photographic show like this one…it’s the most spectacular photographic show ever.”

Noting that “Modern photography is part of the new realism in advertising,” the executive leadership of McCann at the time (all of whom incidentally had risen on the creative side), explained that “This exhibition grew out of a series of discussions with Mr. Avedon. It is an extension of a program we have to make our own people as intimate as possible with the great talents working outside the agency field.”  McCann’s creative staff was also treated to a Q&A with the photographer who, when asked how he felt about being given specific assignments from art directors, said, “Nothing bothers me more than an art director who says that I am free to shoot anything I choose. I want to know what the advertiser wants just as I want to know what the editor wants when I am doing an editorial assignment.”

The Avedon exhibition at McCann has also made it into a film that was shown a year ago as part of a Philadelphia museum show on Avedon’s photographic portraits. As philly.com said at the time, “The exhibition includes a remarkable bit of film. . . It was shot by the great documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker at the opening of a 1964 exhibition of Avedon's work at the McCann Erickson advertising agency in New York. The exhibition, which features a variety of photographs at different scales seemingly just tacked to the walls, looks like more fun than the one we are in. And all those ad men smoking their pipes and drinking pull us into the real Mad Men milieu.”

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