Richard Avedon (May 15, 1923 –
October 1, 2004) was an American photographer. Avedon was able to
take his early success in fashion photography and expand it into the
realm of fine art.
Avedon was born in New York City to a Jewish-Russian family. After
briefly attending Columbia University, he started as a photographer
for the Merchant Marines in 1942, taking identification pictures of
the crewmen with his Rolleiflex camera given to him by his father as
a going-away present. In 1944, he began working as an advertising
photographer for a department store, but was quickly discovered by
Alexey Brodovitch, the art director for the fashion magazine
Harper's Bazaar. In 1946, Avedon had set up his own studio and began
providing images for magazines including Vogue and Life. He soon
became the chief photographer for Harper's Bazaar. Avedon did not
conform to the standard technique of taking fashion photographs,
where models stood emotionless and seemingly indifferent to the
camera. Instead, Avedon showed models full of emotion, smiling,
laughing, and, many times, in action.
In 1966, Avedon left Harper's Bazaar to work as a staff photographer
for Vogue magazine. In addition to his continuing fashion work,
Avedon began to branch out and photographed patients of mental
hospitals, the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, protesters of the
Vietnam War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
During this period Avedon also created two famous sets of portraits
of The Beatles. The first, taken in mid to late 1967, became one of
the first major rock poster series, and consisted of five striking
psychedelic portraits of the group — four heavily solarised
individual colour portraits (solarisation of prints by his
assistant, Gideon Lewin, retouching by Bob Bishop) and a
black-and-white group portrait taken with a Rolleiflex camera and a
normal Planar lens. The next year he photographed the much more
restrained portraits that were included with The White Album in
Avedon was always interested in how portraiture captures the
personality and soul of its subject. As his reputation as a
photographer became widely known, he brought in many famous faces to
his studio and photographed them with a large-format 8x10 view
camera. His portraits are easily distinguished by their minimalist
style, where the person is looking squarely in the camera, posed in
front of a sheer white background. Among the many rock bands
photographed by Avedon, in 1973 he shot Electric Light Orchestra
with all the members exposing their bellybuttons for recording, On
the Third Day.
He is also distinguished by his large prints, sometimes measuring
over three feet in height. His large-format portrait work of
drifters, miners, cowboys and others from the western United States
became a best-selling book and traveling exhibit entitled In the
American West, and is regarded as an important hallmark in 20th
Century portrait photography, and by some as Avedon's magnum opus.
Commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, it was
a six-year project Avedon embarked on in 1979, that produced 125
portraits of people in the American west who caught Avedon's eye.
Avedon was drawn to working people such as miners and oil field
workers in their soiled work clothes, unemployed drifters, and
teenagers growing up in the West circa 1979-84. When first published
and exhibited, In the American West was criticized for showing what
some considered to be a disparaging view of America. Avedon was also
lauded for treating his subjects with the attention and dignity
usually reserved for the politically powerful and celebrities. Laura
Wilson served as Avedon's assistant during the creation of In the
American West and in 2003 published a photo book documenting the
experiences, Avedon at Work, In the American West.
Avedon became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker in
1992. He has won many awards for his photography, including the
International Center of Photography Master of Photography Award in
1993, the Prix Nadar in 1994 for his photobook Evidence, and the
Royal Photographic Society 150th Anniversary Medal in 2003.
In 1944, Avedon married Dorcas
Nowell, who later became a model and was known professionally as Doe
Avedon. Nowell and Avedon divorced after five years of marriage. In
1951, he married Evelyn Franklin; their marriage produced one son,
John. Avedon and Franklin also later divorced.
Martial arts movie star Loren Avedon is the nephew of Richard Avedon.
On October 1, 2004, he suffered a brain hemorrhage in San Antonio,
Texas while shooting an assignment for The New Yorker. At the time
of his death, Avedon was working on a new project titled On
Democracy to focus on the run-up to the 2004 U.S. presidential
Hollywood presented a fictional
account of his early career in the 1957 musical Funny Face, starring
Fred Astaire as the fashion photographer "Dick Avery." Avedon
supplied some of the still photographs used in the production,
including its most famous single image: an intentionally overexposed
close-up of Audrey Hepburn's face in which only her famous features
- her eyes, her eyebrows, and her mouth - are visible.
Hepburn was Avedon's muse in the 1950s and 60s, going as far to say
"I am, and forever will be, devastated by the gift of Audrey Hepburn
before my camera. I cannot lift her to greater heights. She is
already there. I can only record. I cannot interpret her. There is
no going further than who she is. She has achieved in herself her
Donyale Luna in Dress by Paco Rabanne, New York Studio, January,
Ronald Fisher, "The Beekeeper"
Sandra Bennett, twelve year old Rocky Ford, Colorado
Juan Patricio Lobato, carney Rocky Ford, Colorado
David Beason, shipping clerk Denver, Colorado
Joe Dobosz, uranium miner Church Rock, New Mexico