Richard Avedon was a fine art, magazine, dance, and fashion photographer famous for his black-and-white portraits that stilled motion. His innovative style of image-making is hugely influential.Read More
Raised in New York, Avedon's father ran a dressmaking business on Fifth Avenue. At the age of 12 Avedon joined a Young Men's Hebrew Association Camera Club, using the family's Kodak Box Brownie. He continued this interest when he joined the Merchant Marines, taking ID photos with a Rolleiflex his father had given him. He studied design at the New School of Social Research (1944—1950) while working for the advertising section of a department store. One of his teachers helped him get commissions for Harper's Bazaar.
Richard Avedon's photography blurred the lines of commercial and fine art photography. In his documentary and commercial work the artist took portraits of subjects across a broad social spectrum, capturing moments of motion.
Within two years of working on New York streets and in shops, Richard Avedon set up his own studio. There, he took photographs for a variety of publications, including Life, Look, Graphis, and Vogue. His photographs with models became known for their sense of animation and vibrant emotion. See, for example, the massively enlarged Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris (1955) or the singer: Marian Anderson, Contralto, New York (1955).
In 1962 editor of Harper's Bazaar Diana Vreeland left the magazine to go to Vogue and Avedon followed. She remained editor until Anna Wintour replaced her in 1988, with Avedon working on campaigns for Versace, Revlon, and Calvin Klein, featuring models like Brook Shields.
Publishing in book anthologies as well as magazines, Richard Avedon at this time was also making documentary images of the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam marches, various charismatic politicians, artists, intellectuals, and rock stars, plus a group of patients in a Louisiana mental institutions. Creating haunting images from the world outside of the fashion sector, he was famous for his use of a large-format 8x10 view camera and the disarming effect he had on his sitters, as seen in Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York (1957).
Between 1969 and 1970 Avedon made a set of four huge wall-sized murals, linking up to five panels to render groups of colleagues conversing. These included Allen Ginsberg and members of his extended family; Andy Warhol and members of The Factory; and the Chicago Seven, the prosecuted political radicals.
In the early 1980s Avedon created the powerful series of images on American rural life, 'In the American West', which presented a grim look at blue-collar life and economic hardship. The series includes Roberto Lopez, Oil Field Worker, Lyons, Texas (1980) and James Kimberlin, Drifter, State Road 18, Hobbs, New Mexico (1980). Avedon then returned to the world of fashion for Christian Dior, creating a series of coloured fake film stills starring the actress Kelly Le Brock and director Andre Gregory. In the early nineties he became the staff photographer for The New Yorker, acquiring a different sort of audience for his celebrity images.
In 2008, four years after Avedon's death, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. curated Portraits of Power, an exhibition of nearly 250 character studies selected from five decades of work, which included many of the political figures he had photographed.
Richard Avedon has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions and his work is held in institutional collections around the world.
Richard Avedon solo exhibitions include: Richard Avedon, Pace, Geneva (2018); Richard Avedon: Nothing Personal, Pace, New York (2017); Richard Avedon: Murals & Portraits, Gagosian, New York (2012); Richard Avedon Evidence 1944—1994, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1994); In the American West, 1979—84, Pace, New York (1986); Avedon 1946—1980, University Art Museum, Berkeley (1980); and Avedon: Photographs 1947—77, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1978).
Richard Avedon group exhibitions include American Classics, Pace, London (2016); 1969, MoMA PS1, New York (2009); Life of the City, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2002); The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1955).
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021