(b. 15 May 1923 in New York City; d. 1 October 2004 in San Antonio, Texas), prolific and innovative fashion and portrait photographer whose images in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker defined style and sophistication for sixty years.
Avedon’s parents, Anna (Polonsky) Avedon, a homemaker, and Jacob Israel Avedon, a clothing store owner, were from second-generation Russian-Jewish immigrant families who had settled in New York City’s Lower East Side and then the Bronx. His mother’s family owned a dress manufacturing business. His father was the owner of Avedon’s Fifth Avenue, a women’s clothing specialty shop in the Bronx that went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Avedon’s father successfully reopened the store in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, commuting to it from the Bronx by train. Avedon and his younger sister avidly read fashion magazines as children. Avedon later wrote about his childhood, “we used to think of ourselves as a fashionable family.” In fact, he clipped fashion photographs that he admired and decorated his bedroom walls with them.
He began taking his own photographs at age twelve when he joined the local YMCA camera club in 1935 and used his sister as his model. Her beauty—brunette hair, oval face, fine nose, and long throat—became his feminine ideal for his later models, from Dorian Leigh to Audrey Hepburn. “They were all,” he once said, “all memories of my sister.”
Avedon attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he and the future writer James Baldwin were the coeditors of the school’s literary magazine. (In 1946 they collaborated on an unfinished book, Harlem Doorways.) During Avedon’s junior year (1941) he won first prize in the school’s annual poetry contest. After graduating in 1942 he briefly attended the Art Students League in New York City, where he studied sculpture with Ossip Zadkine.
With the advent of World War II, he joined the Merchant Marine. As a photographer’s mate, second class, he was stationed at the base in Sheepshead Bay, New York, and through 1945 he photographed thousands of fellow mariners who shipped overseas. The stark, frontal identification images would become his signature style as a professional photographer. “I used a white background,” he later wrote, “from the beginning.”
Avedon also greatly admired the portrait photographs of the mid-nineteenth century, especially those by Nadar and by Julia Margaret Cameron. “The pictures that moved me most as a young man,” he later remarked, “were Cameron’s portraits of Herschel and Carlyle, Nadar’s of his wife.” Those portraits were set against neutrally blank backgrounds, and they anticipated the extreme close-ups of the actress Maria Falconetti without makeup in Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), which Avedon viewed repeatedly.
In 1945 Avedon attended the legendary Design Laboratory class at New York City’s New School for Social Research. That class was taught by Alexey Brodovitch, the highly influential art director of the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Brodovitch’s fashion spreads featured hybrid layouts that creatively manipulated photographic scale with accompanying text overlaying the photographs. Image and type often were visually joined over two facing pages and then sequenced in unexpected pacing of fashion features. Brodovitch later designed Avedon’s early photograph books using this same style of layout. While he attended Brodovitch’s class, Avedon met the model Doe Nonweil; they married in 1944 and divorced in 1950. During that class Brodovitch featured Avedon’s photographs in Junior Bazaar. From 1945 through the 1960s Avedon worked primarily with a Rolleiflex camera, printing cropped images from the square format.
In 1945 Avedon became a staff photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, working there until 1966. In 1945 he also opened his own studio, which Brodovitch used for some of his design classes. Avedon photographed magazine models and celebrities sitting for portraits with a white, seamless backdrop. From the start Carmel Snow, Harper’s editor, gave Avedon plum assignments. In 1946 Avedon began covering both the fall and spring runway shows of Parisian fashion designers. That year and in 1947 he also traveled to Rome and took snapshots of street performers in the manner of paparazzi photographs published in Paris Match. Those photographs and his studio celebrity portraits were later published in the volume Observations (1959), which featured commentary by the writer Truman Capote.
Both Harper’s Bazaar editor Snow and the art director Brodovitch encouraged Avedon to photograph the French fashion models beyond the usual runway shots. Accompanied by men in tuxedos, models were posed in nightclubs, casinos, and other locales of café society. Most memorably, in 1955 Avedon posed models at a Paris circus. Of this portfolio, the standout image is the willowy model Dovima wearing an ankle-length Dior dress with a flowing sash and standing with high-gloved arms outstretched between two elephants. Innovative covers by Avedon included the model Barbara Mullen seen from above as she sits in Avedon’s studio (1952) and the model Sherry Nelms photographed through a car window (1954). Unusually cropped photographs began in 1951, when Avedon’s image depicted one-half the head of a model seen in extreme close-up.
In 1949 Avedon began a decade-long association with Theatre Arts magazine in which actors in costume posed not just in character for a play but also in psychologically revealing studies of their own inner natures. This type of candid, unguarded moment became Avedon’s signature style of his later celebrity portraits. In 1950 he married Evelyn Franklin, with whom he had a son. They divorced the same year they were married.
By 1953 Avedon began to show fashion models in movement, a style pioneered in the 1930s by Martin Munkacsi; however, Avedon rarely copied Munkacsi’s motion stylization, opting instead for simply a statuesque pose. Avedon’s fashion shoots used movement as a signature style. His cinematic trope became, in fact, the inspiration for the movie Funny Face (1957), in which the character Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire, photographs his model-as-muse Audrey Hepburn on locale in Paris. As the film’s visual consultant, Avedon recreated earlier motion fashion shoots, such as Hepburn walking down steps in the Louvre museum. In 1959 Avedon directed Judy Garland in a television special, and his first book, Observations, appeared. His second book, Personal (1964), included a text by James Baldwin.
In 1962 Avedon’s first museum exhibition was held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He insisted on having full control of the choice and the exhibition of the photographs, which were displayed in what was then the unusually large format of four-foot high prints overlapping and filling the entire installation space. He excluded any fashion images, choosing instead stark and startling studio portraits. Using an eight-by-ten view camera, he combined a shallow depth of focus with the remorseless detail of the larger-than-life print format. His subjects stared at and down the viewer. Photographs included the then drug-addicted pianist and wit Oscar Levant, a frightened-looking Marilyn Monroe, the closed-eyed and in pain poet Ezra Pound, and an unusually worried-looking duke and duchess of Windsor. (For the last photograph, Avedon lied to the royals that his car had just run over a dog, and then he snapped their reaction.) Nowhere were to be seen theatrically posed and composed portraits using dramatic lighting and ennobling settings. Rather, flat lighting and a white backdrop concentrated full attention to the figures, who were cruelly unmasked psychologically. He later said, “My work is meant to be disturbing in a positive way.”
Meanwhile, he continued his fashion shoots for Harper’s Bazaar, which for its April 1965 issue celebrated his twenty years at the magazine with the entire issue featuring only his photographs. The following year he left that magazine for its rival, Vogue, for which he was paid a then record $1 million per year. He worked for Vogue for five years and also freelanced assignments, including music album covers, such as for Simon and Garfunkel in 1969 and Johnny Winter in 1969. In 1970 he edited a book of Jacques-Henri Lartigue photos taken during the early twentieth century, and that book established the Frenchman’s reputation.
During the early 1970s Avedon’s socially conscious photographs included victims of the Vietnam War and antiwar demonstrators at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where he was arrested and jailed for civil disobedience. In 1974 New York City’s Museum of Modern Art exhibited portraits of his terminally ill father, and in 1975 that city’s Marlborough Gallery presented a portrait retrospective exhibit. The portrait show of hundreds of images ranged from small 1949 works to gigantic ten-by-thirty-foot photo murals of groups, including political activists and the artist Andy Warhol and his superstar entourage. Both of these exhibitions catapulted Avedon’s portrait work into the heart of a growing debate concerning photography as a form of fine art.
In 1975 another retrospective toured museums in New York City; Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Tokyo. By the early 1980s Avedon claimed to friends that he had lost interest in fashion. Yet in 1980 he memorialized a fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields wearing skintight Calvin Klein jeans, and in 1981 more than two million posters were sold of his photograph of Nastassja Kinski lying on a backdrop with a python snake slithering across her nude body. Later he also directed television ads for the designer perfumes Obsession by Calvin Klein and Coco by Chanel. Celebrity photographs appeared in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair magazines.
The Amon Carter Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, commissioned Avedon to do a portrait series in 1979. The resulting touring exhibition and book of 1985 featured hundreds of ordinary people from throughout the American West, frontally posed before a white backdrop. The most arresting photo is of a beekeeper covered with his insects. From 1985 to 1992 Avedon worked exclusively for the French magazine Egoiste. In 1992 he became the first and exclusive staff photographer for the New Yorker magazine, a position he retained until his death; he produced weekly portrait studies for the magazine. At the time of his death at age eighty-one in 2004, he was in San Antonio, Texas, working on a portrait series of politicians. He died from complications of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Throughout his sixty-year career, Avedon dramatized fashion in playful yet sophisticated photographs in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He also produced at times vivid and stark portraits of ordinary people whose images become extraordinary and of otherwise extraordinary celebrities who are revealed as being quite psychologically ordinary. He was named one of the ten most important photographers in the world by Popular Photography (1958), named photographer of the year by the American Society of Magazine Photographers (1985), and awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Fashion Designers of America (1989).
Information on Avedon’s life is in Avedon, An Autobiography (1993). He was profiled in a PBS television special by Helen Whitney, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light (1996). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times (both 2 Oct. 2004).
Patrick S. Smith
Richard Avedon (b. 1923) was one of the most important and prolific photographers of the second half of the twentieth century, and in the eyes of many photography and fashion specialists, he was the most important fashion photographer of all time. In a career spanning sixty years he showed himself capable of almost constant stylistic reinvention, yet in retrospect his oeuvre also demonstrated a remarkable coherence and strength that far surpassed the narrow confines of fashion photography. He was acknowledged by his peers for his superb work as early as 1950, when he won the Highest Achievement Medal of the Art Directors Club in New York. Only eight years later he was named by Popular Photography magazine as one of the ten most important photographers in the world. By the end of the twentieth century, having garnered handfuls of honorary degrees, lifetime achievement awards, and other prestigious prizes, Avedon was identified by the Photo District News as "the most influential photographer of the past twenty years." These successes were due in no small measure to his acute sensitivity to the social and artistic revolutions in American culture. As the historian Nancy Hall-Duncan observed in 1979, "This sense of timing and flexibility—representing the desires of our society and reflecting its mood with uncanny sympathy—was Avedon's forte from the start of his career." This talent also helps to explain why he was never displaced by a younger pretender, as happened to so many of his rivals. John Durniak once reported in Time magazine that an admiring colleague considered Avedon "the white mechanical rabbit that all other photographers tried to catch" but never could. Even allowing for the hyperbolic language of the fashion industry itself, which anointed him the king of fashion photography, Avedon could claim a towering record of achievement.
Richard Avedon was born in New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who owned a department store in Manhattan. His school years revealed a marked literary aptitude: he was coeditor with James Baldwin of the De Witt Clinton High School literary magazine, and he was named poet laureate of the New York City high schools in 1941. A brief period of study in philosophy at Columbia University was followed by two years in the U.S. Merchant Marine (1942–1944), after which Avedon undertook intensive visual studies with Alexey Brodovitch at the Design Laboratory of the New School for Social Research. New York had everything the ambitious young man wanted: "theater, movies, music, dance." Part of Avedon's visual education had come from his love of photography. As a teenager he had decorated his room with the work of the masters; as a mature professional, he benefited from the lessons of his predecessors. This keen awareness of the accomplishments of previous artists in the field, and a philosophical bent that allowed him to consider the medium of photography in abstract as well as practical terms, encouraged him to explore the full gamut of the medium's possibilities. For example, switching to a large-format camera after he had started his career in fashion photography with the more flexible Rolleiflex made him realize that throwing the background of a shot out of focus reduced the sum of detail and created "an ambiguous narrative relationship between the knowable (what's sharp), and the unknowable (what's blurred)" (Thurman and Avedon).
Avedon's arrival on the scene coincided with the final years of the dominance of haute couture. In 1945 Carmel Snow invited him to join Harper's Bazaar as staff photographer, where his mentor Brodovitch was already working as art director. Avedon thus stepped into the shoes (but not the footsteps) of the great neoclassicist image-maker George Hoyningen-Huene, who was convinced high fashion was dead. Hoyningen-Huene greeted his young rival disdainfully with the phrase, "Too bad … Too late!" It was this atmosphere of ennui that Snow wished to dispel in and with her magazine. The visionary editor wanted to reinvigorate the Parisian luxury business by opening the vast American market to it, and she needed an interpreter of French taste who was less aloof than Hoyningen-Huene—someone who could temper the classicism of French couture with American zest.
It was not surprising that Avedon always acknowledged the Hungarian photojournalist-turned-fashion photographer Martin Munkacsi, rather than the patrician Hoyningen-Huene, as a key influence on his style. Munkacsi was a pioneer of the out-of-doors realistic fashion photograph, a major stimulus to Avedon's own approach, although the fact that Avedon skillfully combined the exuberance of outdoor photography with the static tradition of the studio showed that he had absorbed lessons from the Baron Adolf de Meyer, Edward Steichen, and George Hoyningen-Huene as well.
For the next four decades Avedon's name was synonymous with the best of fashion photography. Between 1947 and 1984 he photographed the Paris collections for either Harper's Bazaar or Vogue, and he worked exclusively for the latter from 1966 to 1990. Avedon preferred to work repeatedly with the same models, establishing a rapport that, in his words, was "built from sitting to sitting and from season to season." Whether the sitter was Suzy Parker wearing Gres, Dovima wearing Dior— "Dovima Among the Elephants" (1955) is arguably Avedon's most famous photograph—or Jean Shrimpton and Veruschka dressed in psychedelic whimsies, the models wore the clothes as if they were born to them. Avedon's earliest photographs showed women dancing, partying, skipping about from one lively boîte to another on the arm of debonair escorts, the images always striking a careful balance between factual information about the dresses and impressions of how the women looked—and more important, it was implied, felt—wearing them. Despite the seemingly spontaneous character of the images, however, the photographer carefully researched his outdoor and indoor settings before he undertook the sittings.
Avedon's intense early commitment inevitably took its toll. After twenty years in fashion photography, he decided that there was "too much narcissism and disenchantment" in the work. The outdoor images gave way to a harsher minimalist aesthetic that was even described as "cruel," the fabrication of which was possible only in the studio. "I've worked out a series of no's," Avedon wrote in 1994, " … no to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative. And all these no's force me to the yes. I have a white background. I have the person I am interested in and the thing that happens between us." If he continued to work in the arena of fashion, it was to support his family and his "art"—namely, portrait photography.
Avedon's sitters essentially comprised a gallery of the rich, the famous, and the powerful. All were treated equally, in such a way that fellow photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson could call them "inhabitants of an Avedon world." Avedon's twentieth-century gallery has been acknowledged as one of the greatest projects of its kind— in historian and curator Maria Hambourg's words, "a gallery of modern souls as intense and vivid as any ever achieved." Yet somehow, the portraits in the aggregate comprised Avedon's self-portrait, or as Thomas Hess wrote, Avedon seemed always to be "trying to climb into his image." After 1990, his portraits of the past and the present were regular features of the New Yorker magazine. Avedon's work was also exhibited in such prestigious institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts, the Seibu Museum in Tokyo, the Museum "La Caixa" in Barcelona, and the University Art Museum in Berkeley, California.
Avedon, Richard. "The Family." Special bicentennial issue of Rolling Stone, 21 October 1976.
——. Photographs 1947–1977. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.
——. In the American West 1979–1984. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985.
——. Evidence 1944–1994. New York: Random House, 1994.
——. Portraits. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.
Avedon, Richard, and Truman Capote. Observations. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.
Avedon, Richard, and Arbus Doon. The Sixties. New York: Random House, 1999.
Baldwin, James, and Richard Avedon. Nothing Personal. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1964.
Thurman, Judith, and Richard Avedon. Richard Avedon: Made in France. San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery, 2001.
The American fashion photographer Richard Avedon (born 1923) was best known for his probing portraits that go beyond recording likenesses to explore the identity of society and to reflect dreams and desires.
Richard Avedon was born in New York City on May 15, 1923. Educated in the New York City public school system, he left DeWitt Clinton High School without graduating. In 1942 he enlisted in the Merchant Marine's photographic section. Returning to civilian life in 1944, he worked as a department store photographer. A year later he was hired as a fashion photographer by Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper's Bazaar. In 1946 he established his own studio and after that contributed photographs to Vogue, Theatre Arts, Life, Look, and Graphis.
Innovative Fashion Photography And Portraits
Traditionally, fashion photographs depicted elegant, aloof models in static poses. However, following the lead of the innovative Hungarian photographer Martin Munkasci, Avedon produced photographs blurred by the model's motion. By using a wide variety of settings and suggesting a plot through the model's expressive gestures, Avedon introduced an emotional complexity new to fashion photography. Later he took all his photographs in his studio, photographing the models in motion against the plain, white background that became his trademark. These fashion photographs, appearing in the editorial pages of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, brought him prestige, but the lucrative part of his work was advertisements to which he seldom signed his name.
Avedon was also noted for his portraits, which first appeared in Harper's Bazaar but were later published in books and exhibited at museums and gallerys. Stylistically, the portraits and the fashion photographs are alike. The earliest ones, mostly of celebrities, are often blurred as the subject engages in some characteristic activity: Marian Anderson sings, Louis Armstrong plays his horn, Jimmy Durante tips his hat. Later Avedon did away with blurring and soft focus. Instead, a strobe light illuminates every pore and flaw of the subject's face, turning wrinkles into crevices. It was as if Avedon were trying to escape the elegant, youthful images of the fashion world by an intense scrutiny of old age and ugliness.
Of his portraits Avedon said, "The way someone who's being photographed presents himself to the camera, and the effect of the photographer's response on that presence, is what the making of a portrait is all about." The tension between the self image the sitter is trying to project and Avedon's response to that image is somewhat hidden in these photographs because of Avedon's technique. The sitters face forward, virtually filling the picture which is often printed with the black edges of the negative forming a funereal frame. Printed in starkly contrasted black and white, subjects are isolated against a white background. Without a context, the viewer is forced to focus on the sitters' personalities as revealed by their faces and gestures. The frontality of the pose, the empty background, and the harshly revealing light suggest that the photographer has not intervened. The viewer seems to see the bare truth, which in these portraits is seldom flattering. However, as the title of his book, Nothing Personal, suggests, his savage vision seems to be directed not at the subjects but at vanity and hypocrisy in general.
His portraits were virtually all of celebrities, but he did take a series of photographs of the insane, leading critics to claim that Avedon aimed his lens at the two classes of people least able to defend their privacy—the celebrated and the helpless. In any case, his later photographs are less harsh. The photographs of his father, done between October 1969 and August 1973, have been admired for their humanity as they trace his father's losing battle against incurable cancer.
Pictorial Studies of Everyday Americans
In his later work, undertaken for the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and published under the title In the American West, Avedon used his favorite white background and flat lighting. But the sitters were ordinary people rather than celebrities. Here he seemed to be following in the footsteps of the German photographer August Sander (1876-1964), who set about cataloguing archetypal Germans—butchers, aristocrats, Nazis. Avedon, too, labelled his sitters with their occupations: housewife, coal miner, drifter. Like Sander, Avedon believed that the human condition is essentially tragic.
Gentler but no less probing than his earlier portraits, these photographs explore the lives of marginal people, those scrabbling to fulfill the American dream. Like his earlier work, these subjects were photographed in flat light against a white background. The figures are sometimes framed off-center as if they had accidentally sidled into the camera's view, or they are cropped seemingly arbitrarily, reinforcing the notion that the viewer is seeing the people directly rather than through Avedon's eyes. The result is a sense of immediacy, of sincerity that is quite powerful.
Honors and Awards
Avedon has received many awards and honors over the years for his work. In 1958, Popular Photography voted him one of the ten greatest photographers in the world, and more recently, in 1989, he received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in London. He was appointed as the first and only New Yorker staff photographer by editor Tina Brown in 1992. In 1996, he was profiled by Helen Whitney in a television special called Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light.
Avedon's photographs appear in Observations (1959) with a text by Truman Capote; Nothing Personal (1964), with a text by James Baldwin; Richard Avedon: Portraits (1976), with an introduction by Harold Rosenberg; Avedon: Photographs (1947-1977), with text by Harold Brodkey; In the American West (1985); An Autobiography (1993); and Evidence (1994). Since the texts of these books are usually only loosely connected to the photographs, the best source of information on Avedon and his work is Janet Malcom's article "Photography: Men Without Props" in The New Yorker, September 22, 1975.
Avedon can be found on the Web at the A&E Biography site, http://www.biography.com, and on the Time site at http://wwww.pathfinder.com/@@EqwXNQYAtuDpY7OJ/time/magazine/domestic/1994/940328/940328.photog. □
AVEDON, RICHARD (1923–2004), U.S. photographer. Born in New York City, the son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, Avedon carved out a long and successful career as a photographer of fashion models and celebrities, becoming the first staff photographer of the influential magazine the New Yorker, in 1992. He studied philosophy at Columbia University in 1941–42, before entering the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War ii, where he served in the photography section until 1944. He studied photography in New York at the New School for Social Research, where one of his teachers was Alexey Brodovitch, the influential art director of Harper's Bazaar magazine. Avedon became Brodovitch's protégé, and he made his first photographs for the fashion magazine at 21.
In 1946 he established the Richard Avedon Studio in New York. He remained a staff photographer for Harper's Bazaar until 1966, during which time his fresh energetic photographs created a "democratic" vision of high fashion, with his models, often clothed by Dior, strolling down the streets of Paris and chatting with shopkeepers and street performers. He virtually reinvented portraiture as a photographic genre, making arresting, though not always flattering, images of the country's cultural elite (artists, fashion designers, writers, actors) and culturally destitute (drifters and carnival workers he photographed in the western United States in the early 1980s). Posing his subjects against empty white backdrops and removing the descriptive devices of setting and props, Avedon called attention to the subject's gesture and expression, to the drama and psychology revealed in that person's gaze or the lines of his or her face. He worked as an advertising photographer, director, and visual consultant for film and television. One of his most famous fashion photographs, made in 1995 in Paris, shows the then famous model Dovina, in a gown by Dior, before several live elephants. The 1957 film Funny Face, with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, was loosely based on his life. In 1959 Avedon's first book of photographs, designed by Brodovitch, with a text by Truman Capote, was published under the title Observations. He joined Vogue, a rival fashion magazine to Harper's Bazaar, in 1966.
Traveling widely, Avedon produced several notable bodies of work. In 1963 he went to the American South and photographed the civil rights movement, collaborating with James Baldwin on the book Nothing Personal. In the late 1960s and 1970s he photographed antiwar demonstrators, and in 1971 he went to Vietnam to document military leaders and war victims. From 1985 to 1992 his editorial work appeared exclusively in Egoiste, the French literary and art magazine.
His work is in the permanent collections of major museums, and he has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including a display of his fashion photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1978. He was also the recipient of numerous honors, including an honorary doctorate from London's Royal College of Art in 1989, the International Photography Prize from the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation in 1991, and the Master of Photography Award from the International Center of Photography in 1993, the year his book, An Autobiography, was published.
"A portrait is not a likeness," Avedon said. "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."
Avedon once described himself as "completely agnostic, someone who doesn't believe in anything." John Avedon, his son, described his father in a film about him, similarly, and with affection and a bit of humor. "My father, who has absolutely no religious sentiment of any kind, and has no cultural sentiment in terms of Jewish culture, has a very standard Jewish personality, if that's not too big a generalization to make. And by that I mean he thrives on anxiety. It's a way of life."
In Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light, a documentary produced in 1995, Avedon, who considered himself unequivocally secular, said his Jewishness was "connected to something pure in the genes, something in me that was a Jew." He tells of an intimate revelation with his experience of touching an ancient Torah in a synagogue in Europe. "I was shaking," he said. "I can't explain it."
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]
Richard Avedon, 1923–2004, American photographer, b. New York City. Son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he studied philosophy at Columbia, served in the photographic section of the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, and then studied photography at the New School. As a magazine staff photographer for Harper's Bazaar (1945–65) and Vogue (1966–90), Avedon redefined fashion photography as an art form in which realism mixed with fantasy, and he also became known for his arresting celebrity pictures. Although he originally used outdoor settings with models in motion, his later work predominantly consists of studio portraits set against a plain white background, and is stark and known for its uncompromising realism. Mainly black-and-white, these images of the famous and the unknown gain impact from the larger-than-life format in which they are often printed. His books include Nothing Personal (1964), Portraits (1976), In the American West (1985), An Autobiography (1993), Made in France (2001), and Avedon Fashion: 1944–2000 (2009). Avedon was staff photographer for the New Yorker from 1992 until his death.