Richard Avedon

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Richard Avedon
Richard Avedon.jpg
Richard Avedon, 2004
Born(1923-05-15)May 15, 1923
DiedOctober 1, 2004(2004-10-01) (aged 81)
Alma mater The New School for Social Research
Known for Photography
Doe Avedon
(m. 1944;div. 1949)

Evelyn Franklin
(m. 1951;died 2004)

Richard Avedon (january 15, 1923 – October 1, 2004) was an American fashion and portrait photographer. An obituary published in The New York Times said that "his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century". [1]

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.


Early life and education

Avedon was born in New York City to a Jewish family. His father, Jacob Israel Avedon, was a Russian-born immigrant who advanced from menial work to starting his own successful retail dress business on Fifth Avenue called Avedon's Fifth Avenue. [2] [3] His mother, Anna, from a family that owned a dress-manufacturing business, [1] encouraged Richard's love of fashion and art. Avedon's interest in photography emerged when, at age 12, he joined a Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) Camera Club. He would use his family's Kodak Box Brownie not only to feed his curiosity about the world but also to retreat from his personal life. His father was a critical and remote disciplinarian, who insisted that physical strength, education and money prepared one for life. [2] The photographer's first muse was his younger sister, Louise. During her teen years, she struggled through psychiatric treatment, eventually becoming increasingly withdrawn from reality and diagnosed with schizophrenia. [4] These early influences of fashion and family would shape Avedon's life and career, often expressed in his desire to capture tragic beauty in photos.[ citation needed ]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Fifth Avenue avenue in Manhattan

Fifth Avenue is a major thoroughfare in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It stretches north from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to West 143rd Street in Harlem. It is considered one of the most expensive and elegant streets in the world.

A Jewish Community Center or Jewish Community Centre (JCC) is a general recreational, social, and fraternal organization serving the Jewish community in a number of cities. JCCs promote Jewish culture and heritage through holiday celebrations, Israel-related programming, and Jewish education. However, they are open to everyone in the community.

Avedon attended DeWitt Clinton High School in Bedford Park, Bronx, where from 1937 until 1940 he worked on the school paper, The Magpie, with James Baldwin. [5] As a teen, he also won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award. [6] After graduating from DeWitt Clinton that year, he enrolled at Columbia University to study philosophy and poetry but dropped out after one year. He then started as a photographer for the Merchant Marines, taking ID shots of the crewmen with the Rolleiflex camera his father had given him. From 1944 to 1950, Avedon studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch at his Design Laboratory at The New School for Social Research. [1]

DeWitt Clinton High School American public secondary school

DeWitt Clinton High School is a public high school located since 1929 in The Bronx, New York, United States. Opened in 1897 in Lower Manhattan and initially operated as an all-boys school, it maintained that status for nearly 100 years. In 1983 it became co-ed. From its original building on West 13th Street in Manhattan, it moved in 1906 to its second home on 59th Street and Tenth Avenue. In 1929 the school moved to its present home on Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx.

Bedford Park, Bronx Neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City

Bedford Park is a residential neighborhood in the northwest Bronx, New York City, between the New York Botanical Garden and Lehman College. Its boundaries, starting from the north and moving clockwise are: Mosholu Parkway to the north, Webster Avenue to the east, East 196th Street to the south, and the Jerome Reservoir and Goulden Avenue to the west.

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

Photography career

In 1944, Avedon began working as an advertising photographer for a department store, but was quickly endorsed by Alexey Brodovitch, who was art director for the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar . Lillian Bassman also promoted Avedon's career at Harper's. In 1945, his photographs began appearing in Junior Bazaar and, a year later, in Harper's Bazaar. [1]

<i>Harpers Bazaar</i> magazine

Harper's Bazaar is an American women's fashion magazine, first published in 1867. Harper's Bazaar is published by Hearst and considers itself to be the style resource for "women who are the first to buy the best, from casual to couture". Aimed at what it calls "discerning ladies", Bazaar is published monthly.

Lillian Bassman was an American photographer and painter.

In 1946, Avedon had set up his own studio and began providing images for magazines including Vogue and Life [ vague ]. He soon became the chief photographer for Harper's Bazaar.[ citation needed ] From 1950, he also contributed photographs to Life ,[ vague ] Look and Graphis and in 1952 became Staff Editor and photographer for Theatre Arts Magazine.[ citation needed ] Avedon did not conform to the standard technique of taking studio 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 outdoor settings, which was revolutionary at the time.[ citation needed ] However, towards the end of the 1950s, he became dissatisfied with daylight photography and open air locations and so turned to studio photography, using strobe lighting. [7]

<i>Life</i> (magazine) American magazine

Life was an American magazine published weekly until 1972, as an intermittent "special" until 1978, and as a monthly from 1978 to 2000. During its golden age from 1936 to 1972, Life was a wide-ranging weekly general interest magazine known for the quality of its photography.

When Diana Vreeland left Harper's Bazaar for Vogue in 1962, Avedon joined her as a staff photographer. [8] He proceeded to become the lead photographer at Vogue and photographed most of the covers from 1973 until Anna Wintour became editor in chief in late 1988. Notable among his fashion advertisement series are the recurring assignments for Gianni Versace, beginning with the spring/summer campaign 1980. He also photographed the Calvin Klein Jeans campaign featuring a fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields, as well as directing her in the accompanying television commercials. Avedon first worked with Shields in 1974 for a Colgate toothpaste ad. He shot her for Versace, 12 American Vogue covers and Revlon's Most Unforgettable Women campaign.[ citation needed ] In the February 9, 1981, issue of Newsweek, Avedon said that "Brooke is a lightning rod. She focuses the inarticulate rage people feel about the decline in contemporary morality and destruction of innocence in the world." On working with Avedon, Shields told Interview magazine in May 1992, "When Dick walks into the room, a lot of people are intimidated. But when he works, he's so acutely creative, so sensitive. And he doesn't like it if anyone else is around or speaking. There is a mutual vulnerability, and a moment of fusion when he clicks the shutter. You either get it or you don't".

Diana Vreeland American magazine editor

Diana Vreeland was a noted columnist and editor in the field of fashion. She worked for the fashion magazines Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, being the editor-in-chief of the latter, and as a special consultant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was named on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1964.

Anna Wintour Current editor of American Vogue magazine

Dame Anna Wintour is a British-American journalist and editor who has been editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988 and artistic director for Condé Nast, Vogue's publisher, since 2013. With her trademark pageboy bob haircut and dark sunglasses, Wintour has become an important figure in much of the fashion world, widely praised for her eye for fashion trends and her support for younger designers. Her reportedly aloof and demanding personality has earned her the nickname "Nuclear Wintour".

Gianni Versace Italian couturier

GiovanniVersace was an Italian fashion designer and founder of Versace, an international fashion house that produces accessories, fragrances, make-up, home furnishings, and clothes. He also designed costumes for theatre and films. As a friend of Eric Clapton, Diana, Princess of Wales, Naomi Campbell, Duran Duran, Kate Moss, Madonna, Elton John, Cher, Sting, Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G. and many other celebrities, he was one of the first designers to link fashion to the music world. He and his partner Antonio D'Amico were regulars on the international party scene. On 15 July 1997, Versace was shot and killed outside his Miami Beach mansion Casa Casuarina at the age of 50.

In addition to his continuing fashion work, by the 1960s Avedon was making studio portraits of civil rights workers, politicians and cultural dissidents of various stripes in an America fissured by discord and violence. [9] He branched out into photographing patients of mental hospitals, the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, protesters of the Vietnam War, and later the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A personal book called “Nothing Personal,” with a text by his high school classmate James Baldwin, appeared in 1964. [9] During this period, Avedon also created two well known sets of portraits of The Beatles. The first, taken in mid to late 1967, became one of the first major rock poster series,[ citation needed ] and consisted of five psychedelic portraits of the group — four heavily solarized individual color portraits, 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 Beatles LP in 1968. Among the many other 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 .

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 photographed many noted people in his studio with a large-format 8×10 view camera. His subjects include Buster Keaton, Marian Anderson, Marilyn Monroe, Ezra Pound, Isak Dinesen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Andy Warhol, and the Chicago Seven. [10] His portraits are distinguished by their minimalist style, where the person is looking squarely at the camera, posed in front of a sheer white background.[ citation needed ] By eliminating the use of soft lights and props, Avedon was able to focus on the inner worlds of his subjects evoking emotions and reactions. [4] He would at times evoke reactions from his portrait subjects by guiding them into uncomfortable areas of discussion or asking them psychologically probing questions. Through these means he would produce images revealing aspects of his subject's character and personality that were not typically captured by others. [11]

Avedon's mural groupings featured emblematic figures: Andy Warhol with the players and stars of The Factory; The Chicago Seven, political radicals charged with conspiracy to incite riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention; the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his extended family; and the Mission Council, a group of military and government officials who governed the United States' participation in the Vietnam War. [12]

In 1982 Avedon produced a playfully inventive series of advertisements for fashion label Christian Dior, based on the idea of film stills. Featuring director Andre Gregory, photographer Vincent Vallarino and model/actress Kelly Le Brock, the color photographs purported to show the wild antics of a fictional "Dior family" living ménage à trois while wearing elegant fashions. [13]

Avedon became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker in 1992, [14] where his post-apocalyptic, wild fashion fable “In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort,” featuring model Nadja Auermann and a skeleton, was published in 1995. Other pictures for the magazine, ranging from the first publication, in 1994, of previously unpublished photos of Marilyn Monroe to a resonant rendering of Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair and nude photographs of Charlize Theron in 2004, were topics of wide discussion. Some of his less controversial New Yorker portraits include those of Saul Bellow, Hillary Clinton, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott, John Kerry, and Stephen Sondheim. [1] In his later years, he continued to contribute to Egoïste, where his photographs appeared from 1984 through 2000.[ citation needed ] In 1999, Avedon shot the cover photos for Japanese-American singer Hikaru Utada's Addicted to You.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz names Avedon as a major influence, describing his style as ‘personal reportage’, developing close rapport with one's subjects.

In the American West

The cover of Avedon's book In the American West (1985) AvedonInTheAmericanWest.jpg
The cover of Avedon's book In the American West (1985)

One of the things Avedon is distinguished by as a photographer is 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 .[ citation needed ]

Serious heart inflammations hindered Avedon's health in 1974. [11] The troubling time inspired him to create a compelling collection from a new perspective. In 1979, he was commissioned by Mitchell A. Wilder (1913–1979), the director of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, to complete the “Western Project.” [15] Wilder envisioned the project to portray Avedon's take on the American West. It became a turning point in Avedon's career when he focused on everyday working class subjects such as miners soiled in their work clothes, housewives, farmers and drifters on larger-than-life prints, instead of the more traditional options of focusing upon noted public figures or the openness and grandeur of the West. [16] The project lasted five years concluding with an exhibition and a catalogue. It allowed Avedon and his crew to photograph 762 people and expose approximately 17,000 sheets of 8×10 Kodak Tri-X Pan film. [16] [17] The collection identified a story within his subjects of their innermost self, a connection Avedon admits would not have happened if his new sense of mortality through severe heart conditions and aging hadn’t occurred. [11] Avedon visited and traveled through state fair rodeos, carnivals, coal mines, oil fields, slaughter houses and prisons to find subjects. [16] In 1994, Avedon revisited his subjects who would later speak about In the American West aftermath and its direct effects. Billy Mudd, a trucker, went long periods of time on his own away from his family. He was a depressed, disconnected and lonely man before Avedon offered him the chance to be photographed. When he saw his portrait for the first time, Mudd saw that Avedon was able to reveal something about Mudd that allowed him to recognize the need for change in his life. The portrait transformed Mudd, and led him to quit his job and return to his family.

Helen Whitney's 1996 American Masters documentary episode, Avedon: Darkness and Light, depicts an aging Avedon identifying In the American West as his best body of work. [11] The project was embedded with Avedon's goal to discover new dimensions within himself, from a Jewish photographer from the East who celebrated the lives of noted public figures, to an aging man at one of the last chapters of his life, to discovering the inner-worlds, and untold stories of his Western rural subjects.

During the production period Avedon encountered problems with size availability for quality printing paper. While he experimented with platinum printing he eventually settled on Portriga Rapid, a double-weight, fiber-based gelatin silver paper manufactured by Agfa-Gevaert. Each print required meticulous work, with an average of thirty to forty manipulations. Two exhibition sets of In the American West were printed as artist proofs, one set to remain at the Carter after the exhibition there, and the other, property of the artist, to travel to the subsequent six venues. Overall, the printing took nine months, consuming about 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2) of paper. [16]

While In the American West is one of the Avedon's most notable works, it has often been criticized for falsifying the West through voyeuristic themes and for exploiting his subjects. Critics question why a photographer from the East who traditionally focuses on models or public figures would go out West to capture the working class members who represent hardship and suffering. They argue that Avedon's intentions are to influence and evoke condescending emotions from the viewer such as pity. [17]


Avedon had numerous museum exhibitions around the world. His first major retrospective was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1970. [18] The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, presented two solo exhibitions during his lifetime, in 1978 and 2002.[ citation needed ] In 1980 another retrospective was organized by the University Art Museum in Berkeley.[ citation needed ] Major retrospectives were mounted at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1994), and at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (2007; which traveled to Milan, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and San Francisco, through 2009).[ citation needed ] Showing Avedon's work from his earliest, sun-splashed pictures in 1944 to portraits in 2000 that convey his fashion fatigue, the International Center of Photography in 2009 mounted the largest survey of his fashion work. [19] Also in 2009, the Corcoran Gallery of Art showed Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power, bringing together his political portraits for the first time. [20]


Avedon's work is held in the following permanent collections:


Art market

In 2010, a record price of £719,000 was achieved at Christie's for a unique seven-foot-high print of model Dovima, posing in a Christian Dior evening dress with elephants from the Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, in 1955. This particular print, the largest of this image, was made in 1978 for Avedon's fashion retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and was bought by Maison Christian Dior. [26]

Personal life and death

In 1944, Avedon married 19-year-old bank teller Dorcas Marie Nowell who later became the model and actress Doe Avedon; they did not have children and divorced in 1949. [27] The couple summered at the gay village of Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and Avedon's bisexuality has been attested to by colleagues and family. [28] He was reportedly devastated when Nowell left him.

In 1951, he married Evelyn Franklin; she died on March 13, 2004. [29] Their marriage produced one son, John Avedon, who has written extensively about Tibet. [30] [31] [32] [33]

In 1970, Avedon purchased a former carriage house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that would serve as both his studio and apartment. [34] In the late 1970s, he purchased a four-bedroom house on a 7.5-acre (3.0 ha) estate in Montauk, New York, between the Atlantic Ocean and a nature preserve; he sold it for almost $9 million in 2000. [33] [35]

Avedon's nephew is martial arts actor Loren Avedon.[ citation needed ]

According to Norma Stevens, Avedon's longtime studio director, Avedon confided in her about his homosexual relationships, including a decade-long affair with director Mike Nichols. [36] [37]

On October 1, 2004, Avedon died in a San Antonio, Texas hospital of complications from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was in San Antonio shooting an assignment for The New Yorker . At the time of his death, he was also working on a new project titled Democracy to focus on the run-up to the 2004 U.S. presidential election. [1]


The Richard Avedon Foundation is a private operating foundation, structured by Avedon during his lifetime. It began its work shortly after his death in 2004. Based in New York, the foundation is the repository for Avedon's photographs, negatives, publications, papers, and archival materials. [38] In 2006, Avedon's personal collection was shown at the Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and at the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and later sold to benefit the Avedon Foundation. The collection included photographs by Martin Munkacsi, Edward Steichen and Man Ray, among others. A slender volume, Eye of the Beholder: Photographs From the Collection of Richard Avedon (Fraenkel Gallery), assembles the majority of the collection in a boxed set of five booklets: “Diane Arbus,” “Peter Hujar”, “Irving Penn”, “The Countess de Castiglione” and “Etcetera,” which includes 19th- and 20th-century photographers. [39]

Hollywood presented a fictional account of Avedon's 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 noted single image: an intentionally overexposed close-up of Audrey Hepburn's face in which only her noted features – her eyes, her eyebrows, and her mouth – are visible.

Hepburn was Avedon's muse in the 1950s and 1960s, and he went so far as 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." [40]

The 2005 film Capote contains a recreation of Avedon photographing convicted murderers Perry Edward Smith and Richard Hickock in April 1960. Avedon is portrayed by the film's cinematographer, Adam Kimmel.

Noted photographs


See also

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