Widely regarded as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, Richard Avedon not only redefined modern photography, but also what (or who) a modern photographer was.
Avedon has taken some of the most famous portraits of all time and for nearly 60 years, constantly pushed to challenge himself as both photographer and artist, always refining a unique style that was all his own.
He is known mostly for his minimalistic portraits; intense and often brooding subjects surrounded by white.
It was however the world of fashion that provided the backdrop that helped make Avedon one of the most celebrated, controversial and sought after photographers of all time.
Fashion photography simply didn’t exist before Richard Avedon, not modern fashion photography at any rate. Before Avedon, fashion photography was static and flat, models were stiffly dressed and rigidly posed. Avedon took fashion out of the studio and into the streets. He injected movement, life and a vitality where none had existed before.
If a particular scene he wanted did not exist, Avedon created it, building sets, bringing in models, or, as was often the case, enlisting the help of onlookers or passers by.
Avedon was both an ardent observer and a passionate creator, fascinated with what he called “the human quality”. It was this fascination that led him to constantly explore and reinvent what it meant to be a photographer and an artist.
For nearly 60 years, from Paris fashion to celebrity portraits to a five year project chronicling the working class people and drifters of the American West, Richard Avedon not only defined generations of photography, but also inspired countless photographers to look to his work to bring life to their own.
Avedon constantly challenged himself as an artist, and throughout his career he explored other genres of photography outside of fashion that would inspire him to grow as a photographer. Yet, despite photographing the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights Movement, it was portraiture that captured Avedon’s interest. Often containing only a portion of the person being photographed, Avedon’s portraits seem intimate in their imperfection.
One of Avedon’s great gifts as a photographer was his ability to set his subjects at ease and, in turn, create vulnerable, intimate portraits, often of celebrities such as Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, many of whom were otherwise very distant and inaccessible.
As he refined his portraiture, he began to strip away any distractions beyond the subject, which led to the his minimalist style of shooting against a stark, white background. “I’ve worked out of a series of no’s,” Avedon said. ”No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative…I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.” It was from those many no’s that a yes would emerge, and that yes was the photograph.
Avedon’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Major retrospectives of his work have been held at the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Amon Carter Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Richard Avedon died of a brain hemorrhage on October 1st, 2004, while shooting an assignment for The New Yorker.
In 1995, PBS aired an episode of their fantastic American Masters series on Richard Avedon. Though it is now out of print, the documentary can still be seen in its entirety on YouTube. It’s a fascinating look into the mind, and process of one of, if not the, most iconic photographers of all time. The video below contains the playlist of all nine parts.
Via: Faded + Blurred