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Richard Avedon


Richard Avedon

1965: British model Jean Shrimpton poses for a shoot while photographer Richard Avedon lays on the floor, taking a camera from an assistant.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Richard Avedon
23 May 1923- 1 Oct 2004
Main Photographic Subject: Fashion Models/Celebrities

Richard Avedon is best known for his fashion photography and celebrity portraits. Preferring to eschew the "pretty" and bring out the stark underlying "reality" of the subject, Avedon shot primarily black and white imagery in a harshly-lit minimalist style.

Richard Avedon was born May 23, 1923 in New York City, New York. Richard's parents were Jewish-Russian immigrants. Richard studied philosophy in college at Columbia University but dropped out in 1941 to serve in the US Merchant Marines photographic section. When he returned from service he worked as a photographer in a department store and studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch at The Design Laboratory, New School for Social Research in New York City. Various reports have a Harper's Bazaar art director discovering Richard while he was working at the department store but Alexey Brodovitch, who Richard studied under, was the art director for Harper's Bazaar and it is much more likely that his classwork is what led him to a career at Harper's. Richard was a staff photographer for Harper's Bazaar from 1944 to 1965. During this time Richard also worked with other publications such as Vogue and Theater Arts.

In 1957 Richard was the visual consultant for Funny Face which was based on Richard's own career. In 1958 Popular Photography named him one of the "World's Ten Greatest Photographers." In 1963 Richard took a detour from his fashion and celebrity photography to photograph the Civil Rights Movement in the Southern US. By 1966 Richard left Harper's Bazaar and became a staff photographer for Vogue (1966-1990). In 1969 he photographed the Anti-War Movement in the US and in 1970 he went to Vietnam as a photographer.

In 1990 left Vogue and in 1992 he became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker. In addition to his publication work, Richard has many exhibits of his work across the country, including an exhibit at the Smithsonian. Richard has also published many books over the years of photography and taught various photography classes.

Much of Richard's photographic style seemed to be a compilation of his instruction from Brodovitch and his own life experiences. While a childhood friend once described Richard as "always jumping around", a trait that led to many of his photographic subjects always being in motion, Richard also experienced sorrow in life. His Aunt Louise (his mother's sister) had mental illness of some sort and Richard remembered his mother telling her "You're so beautiful you don't have to open your mouth." To Richard, this seemed to suggest that physical beauty was always tainted with underlying unhappiness or tragedy. This odd combination of joy and sorrow mixed with motion and a complete abandonment of "conventional" photographic composition somehow struck a chord with the public.

Richard Avendon has influenced fashion photography like no other photographer. Avendon was largely responsible for the brief yet incredibly influential career of 60's fashion icon Twiggy as well as the seemingly juxtaposed fashion shots of today. Beautiful models but in ugly situations with outlandish situations or movements that are considered "high fashion" today are the result of Richard's personal style. His stark celebrity portraits where no one seems quite "posed" (although Richard micro-managed his models) seem to strip away the pretenses to show us the person beneath the celebrity.

Richard Avendon was married twice
He has one son
Died in Texas while on assignment for The New Yorker

The Richard Avedon Foundation
Vogue UK
Encyclopedia.com Article on Richard Avedon
NY Times Article - "How Avedon Blurred His Own Image"
PBS American Masters Series
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