Richard Avedon: A Beacon of Brilliance (and Hope!)

Richard Avedon was my very first photographic hero. My love affair with his work began in my first year of college, when one of our first assignments was to do a brief presentation on a photographer that we liked. Seeing as I knew nothing of the world of photography or particular photographers at that time, I Googled the words ‘fashion’ and ‘photography’ and there he was; a beacon of the most resounding brilliance, the likes of which I had never known. You’ll have to forgive my gushing, but have you ever witnessed something – a song, a painting, a film, a really good burger – and at that very moment wondered how you ever even began to think you were actually living? Yeah. It’s like that. Seeing as there are thousands of sites and sources where you can get all the juicy details on Avedon’s life and work, including a documentary that I demand HIGHLY suggest you watch, I’ll just give you the skinny of it here.

Richard Avedon was born on May 15, 1923 (he was a Taurus!) in New York City and for over fifty years, redefined and set the bar for the respective worlds of fashion and fine art photography, often simultaneously. Avedon made his living (and then some) predominately as a commercial fashion photographer, and garnered the same amount of recognition and esteem for his portrait work, an area of photography for which he had a particular fondness.

“There’s always been a separation between fashion and what I call my ‘deeper’ work…fashion is where I make my living. I’m not knocking it…it’s pleasure, and then there’s the deeper pleasure of doing my portraits…” -Richard Avedon, 1974

This portrait of Marilyn Monroe was taken during the down-time of their portrait session together. Avedon captures a rare moment when Monroe was not “on” for the cameras, a sign of the amount of trust and respect she had for him. -May 6, 1957

It was as if he could coerce the very soul of a person to surface, and capture it forever on film, with his incredibly intimate portrait sessions during which he would guide his subjects into psychologically-probing, sometimes uncomfortable, conversation. He was also no stranger to fame, as his list of subjects reads like a “Who’s Who” list of pop culture with names like Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Allen Ginsberg, Hillary Clinton, and Charlize Theron among the many. His fashion list was much the same, with names like Twiggy, Naomi Campbell, and Veruschka filling the bill. Avedon also collaborated on campaigns with design powerhouses the likes of Christian Dior and Versace, including a decade-long stint shooting a large bulk of Gianni Versace’s campaigns. In addition, he was the lead staff photographer at Vogue magazine for over two decades, and was the first ever staff photographer for The New Yorker..no big… Indeed, from the 50’s onward, both Richard Avedon’s images and name became ubiquitous within the world and would forever remain, burning as brightly today as they did upon their arrival. Sadly, he left this world on  October 1, 2004. He is survived by his son John, and four grandchildren.

Richard Avedon’s photographic style is best witnessed, not read about, but if one HAD to use words to describe the magnanimity that is Avedon, one would use words like ‘minimal’, ‘energetic’, ‘fresh’, ‘poignant’, ‘classic’, and ‘unforgettable’…hypothetically speaking, of course.

Before I conclude this nutshell, I have to mention one of my favorite things about Richard Avedon: as well as being one of the richest and most prolific photographers in history, he was also a high-school dropout, and started his photographic career shooting passport/I.D. photos for the Merchant Marines!! He was discovered while working as an advertising photographer in a department store and was whisked away to Harper’s Bazaar..and the rest, as they say, is history.

If that doesn’t make you optimistic about life, then I don’t know what will!!

You never know where your next opportunity will come from, or when it will be, but you can  prepare yourself for when it does present itself. Be ready to be brilliant!!

From Avedon’s ‘In the American West’ series (this one’s for you, Max!)
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