The world of fashion has been quite a diverse and creative one. Designers, Fashion Artists, and Fashion Photographers have contributed extensively to pop culture as well as revolutionizing the fashion industry in America as well as in other parts of the world. Among these, are the works of some people, such as Richard Avedon, who has been an important icon of the American fashion industry as well as for the style, beauty, and culture of America as well. The life of Richard Avedon is indeed an interesting one with several ups and downs.
Who Was Richard Avedon?
Richard Avedon was an American fashion and portrait photographer. His expertise included minimalist portraits, emotional and movement-based fashion photography, and depiction of motionless fashion photography as well. The main reason why he rose to success was his vision and approach to photography. He wasn’t just any other photographer; rather he enlivened his models and adapted to photography as more of a psychological approach rather than the conventional “Looks good, looks bad” approach. He helped define an image of America’s fashion industry like none other which is why he got fame globally.
Avedon was born on May 15, 1923, and died on October 1, 2004. Among the numerous brands he has worked with, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue are on the top, mainly because he worked with complete dedication to revive the fashion culture in a conveying emotional manner and movement.
Early Life of Richard Avedon
Avedon was born in New York City on 15th May 1923 to Jacob Israel Avedon and Anna Avedon. His father had his own cloth store and his mother was from a family that was in the dress-manufacturing business. The parents of Richard Avedon saw his passion for art and fashion from quite a young age of 12. Richard joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association’s Camera Club at this age. He wanted to explore the world from his perspective as well as get away from a bit of family trouble. This is because his father was quite a strict person toward him.
In his early life, he attended the DeWitt Clinton High School based in Bedford Park. Eventually, with his interest developing in arts, fashion, and photography, he took part in several competitions as well, of which, he won many. To explore further life deeply and creatively, Richard Avedon enrolled at Columbia University where he studied philosophy and poetry. However, this was short-lived as he dropped out after one year and started to work for Merchant Marines as a Photographer. His primary task at that time was to take ID shots of crewmen. He worked for the Merchant Marines between 1942 and 1944.
The Career of Richard Avedon
Up until now, Avedon was only a student and had only a few part-time gigs with no professional exposure to the photography industry. However, in 1944, Avedon decided to pursue photography professionally when he started studying the subject at The New School for Social Research. His teacher at that time was Alexey Brodovitch who was a Russian-born fashion artist and photographer that used to work for Harper Bazaar. Avedon was a quick learner which is why his works started to get promoted within a year.
Lillian Bassman, an American photographer, helped kickstart Avedon’s career by promoting his photography. In 1945, Avedon’s fashion photographs started to appear in Junior Bazaar. Shortly afterward, they started to appear in Harper’s Bazaar as well. For this reason, he started to get major fame and invitations from many other companies for providing them with exceptional images. In 1946, Avedon was able to earn so much that he set up his own studio for photography and began working for magazines Vogue and Life.
Soon afterward, he became the chief photographer for Harper’s Bazaar because of his exceptional photography skills. This is the time when he was professionally known as a photographer and started to gain a reputation and clientele in the industry as well. Most clients approached Avedon because he was using a unique approach to photography. He went “out of sophistication” by avoiding dull models and instead, focusing more on emotion, happiness, and smiles. Although it was quite unique and many believed that this might not work out, the work of Avedon proved highly successful. Since 1944, he was working in daylight photography.
During the rest of the 1940s and 1950s, Avedon focused on photography by highlighting fashion in real-life settings. There was no studio and everything went natural. This was done to give a broader perception of fashion rather than making it overly complicated and sophisticated in terms of photography. Many of his fashion photographs of this time were based in Paris with the cars and scenic views outside.
His abrupt approach to photography was breaking different types of stereotypes in fashion photography. In 1955, he even had a photo shoot at a circus. A famous model of that era was held up between 2 circus elephants while she was wearing a black Dior evening gown with a white sash. This was an iconic photograph and made him gain massive popularity and fame. All of this was regarded as the original concept of Avedon as he took out a new way to address fashion photos.
The Peak of Avedon’s Career
Once his career took off well and Avedon was recognized as one of the best fashion photographers of all time, it gave him a rise in his career too. By the end of the 1950s, Richard Avedon decided to use his creative approach in the studio as well. He used strobe lights in the studio to go along well in the studio photography. During the 1960s, Richard Avedon also became quite popular among political personnel and did portraits of several civil activists and leaders. A few examples include Dr. Martin Luther King, Julian Bond, and George Wallace. This also made him a frontman for political activities. By 1969, Richard Avedon was shooting portraits to depict the Vietnam War showing American victims.
However, despite all of these extra aspects, he didn’t leave fashion photography. As a matter of fact, he took up several other brands as well and led them to success. He was the lead photographer for Vogue. Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, Colgate, and several other brands were the clients of Richard Avedon during the period of 1960 and 1980s. Brands were always delighted with the photography by Richard Avedon. Brooke Shields, a brand ambassador of Calvin Klein, said that she was quite intimidated by Richard’s photography skills as he was acutely creative.
In 1982, he also produced several advertisements for Christian Dior, many of which went viral and helped the company in gaining a better-earned media value. They showed wild antics in a fictional Dior family complementing the modern yet elegant fashion of that time.
In 1992, Richard Avedon started working with The New Yorker. Right after joining, Avedon started going wild and diverse with his photography and experimented with new things. These gave him and The New Yorker massive fame as well. He took several pictures for the magazine including wheelchair pictures of Christopher Reeve, nude pictures of Charlize Theron, and several other ones which got controversial, viral, and popular at the same time.
Awards of Richard Avedon
Avedon received several awards throughout his life in his professional career. Most of these were based on the fact that he used to present fashion icons in such a unique manner that no one would even expect. His creative approach helped him rise to the top. He got the first award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1989 which was the Lifetime Achievement Award. In the same year, he also got an Honorary graduate degree from the Royal College of Art.
In the coming years, he got several other honorary graduate degrees from multiple colleges. Other notable awards received by Richard Avedon include National Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, The Royal Photographic Society’s Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship, Kitty Carlisle Hart Award, and a few others.
The Meaning Behind Photography of Richard Avedon
Many believe that the tragic incidents which took place in the early life of Richard Avedon shaped his life in different ways. His sister Louise suffered from different types of psychological problems and was drawn away from reality. She was suffering from schizophrenia. Besides, his father insisted that Richard should be more focused on developing physical strength and education rather than just focusing on art and photography. For a number of unfortunate events that took place in his life, Richard Avedon was shaped as an emotionally silent person who used to convey his feelings with his photography. Quite many of his pictures reflect tragedy in a beautiful manner.
Clothing designers and fashion artists also believe that Richard Avedon was a person who took the word fashion for creativity and went along with this vision in his pictures also. He didn’t focus on the brand aspect rather he focused on what makes a particular fashion appealing, and unique, and keeps it away from the rest in the market. For this reason, his works got massive popularity. He became a trendsetter rather than a trend follower. The many meanings behind his photography also meant that he is an explorer. He tried out different trends regardless of the fact that they went controversial, successful, or failed. The ability to think and execute an idea that is unique was one of the motives behind the photography done by Avedon.
We can conclude that Richard Avedon has been one of the best fashion photographers and most iconic personalities belonging to the fine arts industry. Just like Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon also struggled in his life initially which shaped him and his photography accordingly. Richard Avedon is known more as an era or revolution rather than just a person. Avedon died on October 1, 2004, aged 81.