Thursday, August 9, 2007

Shooting Kinski #9: Richard Avedon

"Avedon laughingly described another of his triumphs with model and beast: his famous 1981 Vogue portrait of actress Nastassja Kinski entwined with a boa constrictor. It was Kinski's idea to create a kind of Eve and serpent tableau, and a snake wrangler was duly hired to bring one of his (tame) charges to the shoot.
But one does not direct a boa constrictor. For all of the sensuous glamor of the pose, Avedon said during a PBS interview, "Nastassja spent two hours on a cement floor naked."
"They anchored the snake around her ankles," Avedon said, clearly enjoying the recollection, then waited to see what the critter would do. Shot after shot did not work. Then finally, after many takes, the boa undulated across Kinski's hip and
slowly made its way toward her head.
"Natassja, this is it," Avedon said in a hoarse whisper, "Just try to relax!"
Seconds later the snake came to within inches of the actress' ear, then almost languorously extended its fangs, as if in a kiss.
Another classic; another Avedon moment.
"She [Kinski] rose to the occasion," Avedon exulted, grinning, "the snake rose to the occasion. I rose to the occasion" – all in a moment that would have been impossible to plan."
-Frank Van Riper, Washington Post interviewing Avedon-

Anyone who was around in the eighties will surely remember the famous shot of Kinski and The Serpent taken by Richard Avedon. The photo, taken while Kinski was shooting CAT PEOPLE, first appeared in a 1981 issue of Vogue magazine and was quickly made into one of the best selling posters of all time. The image appeared everywhere throughout the decade and it remains one of the most iconic shots of the period.
The late Avedon was one of America's great photographers and anyone interested in his remarkable career should check out his official site at

While the photo of Nastassja and the snake is the most famous of their collaborations I am even fonder of the striking series of shots Avedon took of her for Rolling Stone in 1982. These are some of loveliest photos of Nastassja ever taken and among the most provocative the once great Rolling Stone ever published.
A few years back Nastassja's lovely and talented daughter Sonja Kinski recreated her mother's most famous shoot for a Photo magazine spread. The full article can be found at the great Nastassja Kinski JP site that is linked to the right. I am including one scan below from it along with two black and white shots of Nastassja from that Rolling Stone session.


cinebeats said...

What a great photo and I totally remember seeing it in the 80s.

I hadn't seen the picture of her daughter doing the same pose so thanks for sharing that bit of info. She has really beautiful daughters!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
Sonja is lovely and the pics of her in that spread were a nice tribute...I love the Avedon photos, specifically those black and white shots...

rodanrodan2000 said...

I still have that issue of Rolling Stones and I remember how remarkable the photo's of her where. And then their was the article itself, the only time I can remebeer John Simon gushing like a schoolboy in love.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Rodan...That original Rolling Stone is great and I do remember Simon being like that...I haven't re-read it in a while and have been meaning to look through it again...thanks for commenting

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I love those pictures. Wow! Nastassja is so sexy in them. Great shots. I do remember those pics, but it's been years since I've seen them.

noriaki78 said...


I've uploaded the video from the PBS documentary.

Thanks for this great article!

jeffistheone said...

I always loved this photo. After thinking about it for about 20 years (no kidding!). I finally obtained a copy of the poster signed by Richard Avedon. I also obtained an 8" x 10" version signed by Nastassja Kinski. I had both of these custom mounted in one frame. It is a great conversation piece and it has a prominent place in our game room. I would be buried with it but I do't think it would fit in the casket. I am a real fan.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Jeff,
Wow that is awesome you have those signed...I am envious.
It is a lovely pic...truly one of the most iconic ever.
Thanks for the nice comments...

Vaune said...

I bought the poster way back in the eighties signed by Avedon. Wonder what its worth today?

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Anonymous said...

I have a signed avedon poster of the famed kinski with the snake, if you're interested email me.