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 1968.
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.
Marriages and family
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.
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 ultimate portrait."
On October 1, 2004, he suffered a brain hemorrhage in San Antonio, Texas while shooting an assignment for The New Yorker. He died in San Antonio on October 1. 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 election.
- Dovima with Elephants,1955
- Marilyn Monroe, actress, 1957
- Dwight David Eisenhower, President of the United States, 1964
- The Beatles, 1967
- Sly Stone (cover of Fresh Album), 1973
- Ronald Fischer, beekeeper, 1981
- Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, 1981
- Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory, New York 1969
- Homage to Monkacsi, Carmen, coat by Cardin, Paris 1957