What do Jean Genet, Jimmy Durante, Brigitte Bardot, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacques Cousteau, Andy Warhol, and Lena Horne have in common? They are just a few of the many personalities immortalized on film by photographer Richard Avedon.
For 50+ years, Avedon’s portraits have filled the pages of the best magazines. His stark imagery and brilliant insight into his subjects’ character makes him one of the most important American portrait photographers.
I am rather obsessed with photography, you kids know that, with a special weakness for 20th century photographers. Some of you know that I have been amassing a collection of photographs of men being affectionate and assorted handsome guys, from 1870-1970. I also have stacks of books about and featuring the pictures by some of the photographers that I admire. I find myself returning to various images over and over.
I have always been captivated by Avedon’s ability to tell a story in a deceptively simple photo. I always wished for him to do the cover photo for my yet to be realized album Candy Coated Codeine.
Avedon was among the first artists to challenge the conventional boundaries between studio photography and reportage. Some of his portraits: a young Bob Dylan standing in the rain, Marilyn Monroe caught in a vulnerable moment, Andy Warhol and his Factory crew, are among the most iconic of the 20th century.
His daring style rejects conventional poses and instead captures the emotion in the faces of his subjects, catching the intrigue in a single honest instant.
From his breakthrough fashion work in the 1950s; his portrait of American counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, his Reagan era series with an emphasis on ordinary people living in the western USA, plus his portraits of the nation’s most influential people, his work lives on.
Along with his work in the magazines, Avedon collaborated on books of portraits. In 1959, he worked with Truman Capote on a book that documented some of the most famous and important people of the century: Buster Keaton, Gloria Vanderbilt, Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mae West.
In the early 1960s, Avedon did a series of images of patients in mental hospitals. The brutal reality of the lives of the mentally ill was a bold contrast to his celebrity pieces. In the 1980s and 1990s he did a series of studio images of drifters and carnival workers.
Avedon was born this day in 1923, in NYC to Russian Jewish parents; he died in 2004 of a cerebral hemorrhage in San Antonio where he was on assignment for The New Yorker.