February 28, 2018
Richard Avedon Foundation Discovers Hundreds of Factual Errors in Conflict-Ridden, Unauthorized Biography of Late Photographer
Foundation Pushes Spiegel and Grau to Immediately Cease Publication and Correct the Record; Publisher Says Facts Don’t Matter
New York, N.Y. — The Richard Avedon Foundation today unearthed an avalanche of new evidence of inaccuracies published in Avedon: Something Personal by Norma Stevens and Steven M.L. Aronson. As the list of falsehoods piles up, the Foundation is demanding that publisher Spiegel and Grau cease publication of the book.
“The book contains hundreds of documented factual errors which we have presented to Spiegel and Grau and offered to walk them through all of the supporting evidence in a sincere effort to get them to correct the record,” says James Martin, Executive Director of The Richard Avedon Foundation. “Unfortunately, they continue to turn a blind eye. Now that the book has stirred negative criticism, the publishers are playing into the current culture of peddling alternative facts.” An attorney for Spiegel and Grau, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, responded to the Foundation’s list of errors by claiming that “what is important is what is remembered, and not necessarily what is empirically true and verifiable.” Martin continues, “Spiegel and Grau are suddenly trying to pretend that the book is not a biography (despite heavily marketing it as such) but merely a book of ‘impressions’ and ‘memories.’ Most of the ‘memories’ in question are predicated on false facts and confected out of whole cloth. At a minimum, they need to stop selling digital downloads and halt further publication or licensing. They should also refund the purchase price of the book to anyone who wants their money back.”
Publisher and Authors Neglect Fact-Checking
The book was originally published on November 21, 2017 promising to “reveal a panoramic picture of the life and psyche of a legend” through a combination of “memoir, biography and oral history.” The Foundation quickly called out the authors and publisher for the errors, fictions and outright lies contained within its 677 pages. Martin continued, “It was immediately clear that the book contained enough fabrications to call for the suspension of publication. The publisher refused. Since that time, the Richard Avedon Foundation has taken on the laborious task of line-by-line fact-checking and sourcing, something that the authors and publishers should have done prior to publication. We have amassed hundreds of examples of biographical and other errors in just in the first 1/3 of the book. These errors are then used to form the basis of anecdotal “memories,” and lengthy invented and/or fictionalized scenes and conversations that were never recorded because they could not possibly have taken place. It is the most egregious thing I have ever seen.”
Prior to publication, Martin made several offers to help fact-check Stevens’ and Aronson’s work - an overture that was flatly declined. “Human memory is fallible, and Norma Stevens’ memory is incredibly so,” says Martin. “Her memory was already faulty when she recorded a lengthy oral history for the Foundation in 2009 – which is full of errors – and it has only gone downhill from there. In this instance, she was enabled by the publisher to go to print with shockingly limited professional oversight. If comprehensive sourcing and fact-checking are the standards in modern publishing, it is clear that the authors blatantly ignored the substantial trove of historical and cultural research about Richard Avedon that is publicly available.”
Outcry of Complaints and Inconsistencies
Since the book’s publication several months ago, the Avedon Foundation immediately started receiving multiple complaints from former Avedon Studio employees, Avedon’s friends and confidants as well as individuals quoted in Stevens’ and Aronson’s book. “So many people that were interviewed have contacted the Foundation to complain about the way their ‘oral histories’ were published,” said Martin. “We don’t have access to the tapes to compare these things to – we encourage these people to contact Spiegel and Grau, or Stevens and Aronson, and demand their tapes and notes. We can certainly point out numerous factual errors in the oral histories, but Stevens, Aronson, and Spiegel and Grau need to finally step up and make the corrections.”
To demonstrate the severity of the newly-documented list of fabrications contained in Stevens’ and Aronson’s book, the Foundation is releasing both a working list of more than 200 errors and an excerpt from former Avedon Studio assistant Cameron Sterling. According to the Foundation, Sterling loaned Stevens his studio notebook for what he thought was her research only. Instead, Stevens changed his language, and published sections without his sign-off. Sterling donated a copy of his notebook to the Foundation for research purposes. “In the comparison, it is obvious that Stevens and Aronson both changed and added language to what Sterling wrote in order to make it sound more negative and critical, which has been a common complaint from interviewees from whom we have heard,” says Martin. “These authors definitely have an agenda to cast Avedon, his family, and many of his closest friends and associates in a negative light. The excerpt also proves that Stevens was in New York City at the Avedon Studio on the day that Avedon died – and not by his side in San Antonio as Stevens claims.
The Foundation notes that Norma Stevens was both dismissed and removed from its board of directors in 2009. “We assume that this is what is driving Ms. Stevens in her quest to defame almost anyone who was closer to Avedon than she was,” says Martin. “This book does not belong as part of the historical record and should not serve as the basis for any legitimate future study of Avedon’s life and work Almost every quote is wildly invented. Avedon would be appalled by her vindictive agenda, her bold and lying assertion that she was his hand-picked biographer and her overwhelming sloppiness.”
A working list of errors in formation is attached. Corrections to the errors and supporting documentation can be obtained by registering through the Richard Avedon Foundation’s website, avedonfoundation.org/somethingpersonal.