Happy birthday Richard Avedon!

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Richard Avedon (May 15, 1923 – October 1, 2004) was an American fashion and portrait photographer whose photos helped define the image of America throughout the latter part of the 20th century. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1989, along with many other recognitions throughout his career.

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Avedon was born to Jacob Israel Avedon and Anna Avedon in New York City. His father was a Russian immigrant who had started a successful dress business on Fifth Avenue. His mother's family had owned a dress manufacturing business and so she encouraged his interest in art and fashion. He became interested in photography at a young age, toting a Kodak Box Brownie around and taking pictures of his younger sister. When he was 12, he joined the Young Men's Hebrew Association Camera Club.

As a teenager, Avedon studied at DeWitt Clinton High School where he served as co-editor with James Baldwin to the school's prestigious literary magazine The Magpie. He studied at Columbia University for one year, but dropped out to serve in the Merchant Marine in World War II. He ended up serving as a photographer's mate, taking pictures of identification portraits of marines. (Image source)

Upon leaving the Merchant Marine, Avedon studied photography at the New School for Social Research under Alexey Brodovitch, the art director for Harper's Bazaar. Brodovitch took Avedon under his wing and hired him as a staff photographer. He worked for a few years photographing models in new fashion on the streets of New York City before he moved on to shooting in Paris. He spent twenty years at Harper's, becoming known for his provocative, exploratory shots. One shot in particular, "Dovima with Elephants," represents his willingness to explore.

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Avedon also shot portraits of many of the era's most notable figures; Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., and The Beatles were just some of those whose spirits and humanity he captured on film.

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Avedon left Harper's for its immediate rival, Vogue. All the time, he kept pushing the boundaries of what people considered photography and what they considered art. He was a major part of the force that brought photography into the public eye as a critical art form.

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In 1974, Avedon's photos of his terminally ill father were featured at the Museum of Modern Art (below). In addition to these and his fashion photos, Avedon photographed participants in the American Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War Protests, and later people present at the fall of the Berlin Wall. His portraits are known for their minimalism.

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He is quoted as saying, ""The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."

In the late 1970s, Avedon was commissioned to complete a project chronicling the American West. This marked a transition into covering everyday subjects as opposed to celebrities.

In 1992, Avedon became the first staff photographer at The New Yorker. One of his last projects, left uncompleted, was called "Democracy," and featured portraits of such figures as Karl Rove and John Kerry.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 15 May 2014
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