(From Wikipedia, the free
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
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
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
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 election.
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."