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Richard Avedon Portrait Photography

American, 1923-2004

A while back, Richard Avedon had a confession to make. “I hate cameras,” said the man who revolutionized fashion and portrait photography. “If I could only work with my eyes alone!”

Yet Avedon’s photos seem to do just that — they remove the distance the camera lens creates to make you feel that you are right there beside his subjects.

Born in New York City in 1923, Avedon had a stern father, an artistic mother and a beautiful, but troubled, sister. At 18, he wanted to be a poet. And the slight, 5’7” dreamer didn’t lack confidence — or a sense of drama. “I know my drifting will not prove a loss / For mine is a rolling stone that has gathered moss,” he wrote in 1941.

A year later, Avedon joined the Merchant Marines, where he spent his World War II years shooting ID photos of new recruits. “I must have taken pictures of 100,000 faces before it occurred to me I was becoming a photographer,” he later recalled.

After demobilization in 1944, Avedon shot fashion pictures for the tony Manhattan department store Bonwit Teller and studied with Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary art director of Harper’s Bazaar. By 1945, his work was appearing in Junior Bazaar

“His first photographs for us were technically very bad,” Brodovitch later recalled. “But they were not snapshots. . . . Those first pictures of his had freshness and individuality, and they showed enthusiasm and a willingness to take chances.”

Who else was willing to take chances? Brodovitch and Carmel Snow, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, who soon sent the young talent to fashion’s sacred capital, Paris.

The postwar years were hard in Paris. When Avedon first arrived there, in 1946, it was with an explicit directive from Snow. “Dick was tasked with this idea that he was there to rebuild Paris,” explains Martin. In restoring the energy and excitement around Paris, Avedon imbued it with some of his own.

Avedon’s models jumped, twirled, leapt over puddles and they smiled. Like Avedon himself, they rarely stood still. While he wasn’t the first to use action in fashion photography (in the 1930s, Martin Munkacsi and Toni Frissell began creating fashion images of women engaged in sporty scenarios), Avedon was the first to pair such vitality with women wearing couture.

Character and spirit became la mode. Dovima’s graceful silhouette juxtaposed against the wrinkled heft of two shackled elephants. Dorian Leigh laughing and embracing a bicycle racer. Suzy Parker roller skating across the Place de la Concorde. Sunny Harnett and her cool gaze just daring the roulette table — and every man in the room — not to do her bidding. There was always a narrative in an Avedon mise en scène — whether the background was elaborately staged or stark, the model’s job had forever changed from posing, to acting.

Of course, Avedon did not limit himself to fashion photography. The little boy who once collected autographs grew up to create the most iconic portraits of the 20th century, many of these were included in an exhibition at Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York, in 2017.

A 1958 New Yorker profile noted that even though Avedon’s portraits immortalized cultural elites such as Truman Capote, Elsa Maxwell and Charles Laughton, the qualities that most interested the photographer were “advanced age, physical debility, ugliness, or the pathos underlying the surface insouciance.” Yet “none of Avedon’s subjects seem to resent this kind of treatment . . . being selected to sit for one of his Harper’s Bazaar portraits ranks as an accolade.”

Over the next 40-plus years of his career, his iconic portraiture never lost its force; although at times, his unvarnished truth felt cruel. 

But Avedon was a creator, not an observer, and he made no apologies for this. The sitter and the photographer “have separate ambitions for the image,” he wrote in 1985. “His need to plead his case probably goes as deep as my need to plead mine, but the control is with me.”

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Artist: Richard Avedon
RICHARD AVEDON - CENTER FOR CREATIVE IMAGING
By Richard Avedon
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Avedon, Richard. RICHARD AVEDON - CENTER FOR CREATIVE IMAGING. Poster, 1991. Signed in ink by Avedon. Captioned " Gordon Stevenson, drifter Interstate 90 Butte Montana...
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Twiggy, Hair by Ara Gallant, Paris Studio, January, 1968
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Richard Avedon portrait photography for sale on 1stDibs.

Find a wide variety of authentic Richard Avedon portrait photography available for sale on 1stDibs. You can also browse by medium to find art by Richard Avedon in offset print, silver gelatin print and more. Not every interior allows for large Richard Avedon portrait photography, so small editions measuring 24 inches across are available. Customers who are interested in this artist might also find the work of Bruce of LA, Lisa Toboz, and Jay Blakesberg. Richard Avedon portrait photography prices can differ depending upon medium, time period and other attributes. On 1stDibs, the price for these items starts at $475 and tops out at $475, while the average work can sell for $475.

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