May 15, 1923 - Oct.1, 2004
Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is...the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own.
Regarded as one of the most influential photographers of the Twentieth Century, Richard Avedon was born in New York City on May 15, 1923. Fashion may have been in his blood, since his mother's family manufactured dresses and his father had a clothing store on Fifth Avenue. Growing up, Avedon's room was adorned with photographs torn from fashion magazines. Avedon attended the same high school, Dewitt Clinton, as James Baldwin, where both were editors of the school's literary magazine. Dropping out of high school at 17, Avedon joined the Merchant Marine and was assigned to the photographic section where he took unknown numbers of I.D. photos for sailors, sparking a genuine love for the fascination with faces.
Returning to civilian life, Avedon enrolled in the New School for Social Research, taking a class taught by the art director of Harper's Bazaar magazine, Alexey Brodovitch. With Brodovitch's encouragement and criticism, Avedon's star began to shine. In the early '50's while senior editors covered the runway shows of fashion, Avedon took those models outside of the fashion world by placing them in cafes, casinos and nightclubs, adding a bit of glamour as only Avedon's photos could. Location photos now occured at circuses where models posed with elephants and tigers. Avedon introduced surrealism to the fashion world breaking down conventional fashion photography barriers, a practice that he would continue for the next 50 years.
Fashion photos in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar brought Avedon fame and prestige, but he preferred the white walls of his studio, where controlled lighting would illuminate "every pore and flaw" on an otherwise heretofore unblemished face. Portraits of the insane, of celebrities, and of his father while losing a battle against cancer, all show a glimpse of humanity that is "seldom flattering."
A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he's being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he's wearing or how he looks.
Avedon's fascination with faces is evident in his 1964 collection, Nothing Personal, a collaboration with old friend James Baldwin which presented "unflattering photos of affluent Americans." Both his and his subject's sensibilities are further evident in In The American West, (1985) where again, in front of his white background, Avedon presents the common man, people seeking to fulfill the american dream. Framed off center with his 8x10 Deardorf and cropped "arbitrarily", Avedon attempted to present
images sans camera. The result, as usual with Avedon, is quite powerful, showing truth and sensitivity unveiled.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Avedon's images is that once you've seen them, you don't forget them. From portraits of Brigitte Bardot to Andy Warhol, from the administration behind the Vietnam War to the Chicago Seven who protested it, from Truman Capote to Buster Keaton to Marilyn Monroe, Richard Avedon has successfully attempted to unmask the human personae. On an assignment for The New Yorker covering the presidential nominating conventions , Avedon suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away on Oct. 1, 2004. Fortunately for us, his enormous body of work remains behind, including self-portraits by who else but the best, Richard Avedon.
A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.
Publications by Richard Avedon
- 2002 Richard Avedon Portraits, Harry N. Adams, Inc.
- 2001 Richard Avedon: Made in France
- 1999 Avedon The Sixties, Random House, Inc.
- 1994 Evidence:1944-1994, Random House, Inc.
- 1993 An Autobiography, Random House, Inc.
- 1985 In The American West 1979-1984, Harry N. Adams, Inc.
- 1978 Avedon: Photographs 1947-1977, Straus & Giroux.
- 1976 The Family, Edited by Renata Alder.
- 1976 Portraits, Straus & Giroux.
- 1973 Alice in Wonderland: The Forming of a Company, The Making of a Play, E.P. Dutton.
- 1964 Nothing Personal, Atheneum.
- 1959 Observations, Simon and Schuster, Inc.