Artist
Richard Avedon
American photographer

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Richard Avedon
American photographer
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Birth Date

May 15, 1923

Death Date

October 01, 2004

Arty Fact

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Contributor

Photographer to the stars, Richard Avedon was one of the century’s biggest names in photography.

Marilyn Monroe? Eisenhower? Bob Dylan? Hillary Clinton??? Yeah, he’s got pictures of all of them and then some. Avedon’s career as a photographer didn’t just start from snapping pictures of celebrities though. Born in New York city, young Richard Avedon was exposed to the fashion world from an early age. His Russian immigrant father owned a clothing retail on Fifth Avenue while his mother hailed from a family of dressmakers. He recalled that pivotal point in his childhood where he became obsessed with fashion photography: “One evening my father and I were walking down Fifth Avenue looking at the store windows. In front of the Plaza Hotel, I saw a bald man posing a very beautiful woman against a tree. He lifted his head, adjusted her dress a little bit and took some photographs. Later, I saw the picture in Harper’s Bazaar. I didn’t understand why he’d taken her against that tree until I got to Paris a few years later: the tree in front of the Plaza had the same peeling bark you see all over the Champs-Elysees.”

After dropping out of Columbia University after a brief stint of higher education, Avedon became a photographer of the Merchant Marines where he took identification pictures of all the sailors. A couple years later, he ended up studying photography with Alexey Brodovitch, art director of Harper’s Bazaar. Well, as you can pretty much guess, it was smooth sailing from there. Avedon fast became one of the biggest names in fashion photography. He really made it big when he did a photo shoot at a circus. The model, Dovima, from the famous photograph of her in a black Dior number stroking the trunks of two elephants had this to say about Avedon and his vision: “He asked me to do extraordinary things, but I always knew I was going to be part of a great picture.” You said it, Dovima!

Sky was the limit for Richard on the rise, who spent 20 years as a staff photographer for Harper’s Bazaar while keeping a little side business of portrait photography. His famous celebrity portraits include the Beatles, Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Buster Keaton, Andy Warhol and the Chicago Seven. Other noted figures included Macolm X, Dr, Martin Luther King Jr. and Toni Morrison. Avedon also did some pretty intense portraits of Vietnamese napalm victims and American soldiers. Shows that he wasn’t just all about the gliterrati.

Avedon considered his work a reflection of himself…even though his pictures aren’t very self-portrait-y. He would get up close and personal with his subjects and sometimes lead them into awkward conversations or ask psychologically unsettling questions. No wonder his larger than life subjects look so real and unmasked!

 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Richard Avedon

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".

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. His mother, Anna, from a family that owned a dress-manufacturing business, 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. 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. 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.

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. As a teen, he also won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award. 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.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Richard Avedon.