Perhaps no one captured cultural life post-World War II more vividly than Richard Avedon. From pop icons to artists to heads of state, being photographed by Avedon meant you were someone. There must have been something disarming about Avedon, who first came to prominence with his work for Harper’s Bazaar, because even though so many of his subjects were celebrities, he invariably revealed a more vulnerable, less guarded side of the people he photographed.

That talent is in evidence in “(re)Framing Conversations: Photographs by Richard Avedon, 1946-1965,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian that will be on display until November. The show features portraits of celebrities who defined the second half of the 20th century. But the Smithsonian wants to remind visitors that Avedon also documented the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice causes, while using his work to raise questions about race, sexuality and power. “We want visitors to look at these photographs and think about how they make choices about what music they listen to, who they vote for and what they read,” says curator Shannon Thomas Perich. “Because by making those decisions, we shape American culture, one person at a time.”

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