September 11th, 2005
Richard Avedon
About the Photographer

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”
–Richard Avedon

What do Jean Genet, Jimmy Durante, Brigitte Bardot, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacques Cousteau, Andy Warhol, and Lena Horne have in common? They were a few of the many personalities caught on film by photographer Richard Avedon. For more than fifty years, Richard Avedon’s portraits have filled the pages of the country’s finest magazines. His stark imagery and brilliant insight into his subjects’ characters has made him one of the premier American portrait photographers.

Born in New York in 1923, Richard Avedon dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marine’s photographic section. Upon his return in 1944, he found a job as a photographer in a department store. Within two years he had been “found” by an art director at Harper’s Bazaar and was producing work for them as well as Vogue, Look, and a number of other magazines. During the early years, Avedon made his living primarily through work in advertising. His real passion, however, was the portrait and its ability to express the essence of its subject.

As Avedon’s notoriety grew, so did the opportunities to meet and photograph celebrities from a broad range of disciplines. Avedon’s ability to present personal views of public figures, who were otherwise distant and inaccessible, was immediately recognized by the public and the celebrities themselves. Many sought out Avedon for their most public images. His artistic style brought a sense of sophistication and authority to the portraits. More than anything, it is Avedon’s ability to set his subjects at ease that helps him create true, intimate, and lasting photographs.

Throughout his career Avedon has maintained a unique style all his own. Famous for their minimalism, Avedon portraits are often well lit and in front of white backdrops. When printed, the images regularly contain the dark outline of the film in which the image was framed. Within the minimalism of his empty studio, Avedon’s subjects move freely, and it is this movement which brings a sense of spontaneity to the images. Often containing only a portion of the person being photographed, the images seem intimate in their imperfection. While many photographers are interested in either catching a moment in time or preparing a formal image, Avedon has found a way to do both.

Beyond his work in the magazine industry, Avedon has collaborated on a number of books of portraits. In 1959 he worked with Truman Capote on a book that documented some of the most famous and important people of the century. Observations included images of Buster Keaton, Gloria Vanderbilt, Pablo Picasso, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mae West. Around this same time he began a series of images of patients in mental hospitals. Replacing the controlled environment of the studio with that of the hospital he was able to recreate the genius of his other portraits with non-celebrities. The brutal reality of the lives of the insane was a bold contrast to his other work. Years later he would again drift from his celebrity portraits with a series of studio images of drifters, carnival workers, and working class Americans.

Throughout the 1960s Avedon continued to work for Harper’s Bazaar and in 1974 he collaborated with James Baldwin on the book Nothing Personal. Having met in New York in 1943, Baldwin and Avedon were friends and collaborators for more than thirty years. For all of the 1970s and 1980s Avedon continued working for Vogue magazine, where he would take some of the most famous portraits of the decades. In 1992 he became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker, and two years later the Whitney Museum brought together fifty years of his work in the retrospective, “Richard Avedon: Evidence”. He was voted one of the ten greatest photographers in the world by Popular Photography magazine, and in 1989 received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in London. Today, his pictures continue to bring us a closer, more intimate view of the great and the famous.

Avedon died on October 1st, 2004.

  • Meemee

    Should be easier to find pictures!!!!!!!!!!

  • bob

    rarg photography rocks just wish it was easier to find the pics i need

  • Eduardo

    yes indeed, non help at all!!!!

  • RK9

    Muhahahahahahahha!!!

  • sabrina

    ii must sayy that this site did help me out. ;)
    it gave me some info. that ii have been looking for.

  • lyn

    It’s really easy to find the pictures. Go to Google images and type in Richard Avedon. Duh!

  • Relevant

    If you look on google images Im sure you’ll find something. This page is a biography of Avedon. Excellent page for my research. Thank you American Masters.

  • Josh

    Anyway to get this on dvd for around $20. I only see used copies for $70+

  • bob

    man do yall not have any thing better to do then write comments

  • Zak S

    :)

  • joshuaferdinand.com

    I find his working method very interesting. He is one of the few photographers that has been able to bridge the gap between commercial and fine art, and do it with some sort of class.

  • STANLEY WEISBART

    HOW cAN I GET A QUALITY COPY OF THE AMERICAN MASTERS
    VIDEO OF RICHARD AVEDON, AND AT WHAT PRICE?

    THANK YOU, STANLEY WEISBART

  • Jessica

    i hate photographyyyyy more than anything.

  • Raina and Jo

    prtty sure i cant find any photos!!… wat the hell ..photography is boring hahaah jhfgcicgb jcv ygf

  • Abbs

    you people are all crazy if you cant find pictures!! i found HUNDREDS just by searching “Richard Avedon” on google pictures. (crazy people, lol)

  • Natalie

    another easy way to find photos is richardavedon.com. wow that was difficult.

  • Addison

    Hello my name is addison and im doing a huge report on photoghraphy dose some one know a way i can get in cantact with a photographer to interview? email me or addison.16@comcast.net or comment back

  • shanda

    this photographer has unique was to phtograph!!!

  • Ashanti

    I love photography. <3
    It is absolutely the best thing that could ever be created.

    =]

  • jacqueline

    i found this site extremly helpful as well.
    http://www.bookrags.com/biography/richard-avedon/

  • Zac

    has anyone ever seen a poster series advertising New York, with celebrities photographed by Richard Avedon? I have two of these posters, one of the celebrities photographed was mikhail baryshnikov, and its from the New York Department of Commerce, and I’m trying to find more information about these posters and this series of posters…

    anyone out there?

  • ABEO

    um this website sux!

    kthnx!

  • god blows

    this web site did not help at all thnxs alot :/

  • Jessica Natale

    Anyone know who the author of this artical is?!?!

  • wild thang :)

    Photography is AMAZING! It helped me find the answers i needed.

    Eesh kander vee kinder.

  • babak hassibian

    I like this photographer.He is great artist.Yeye

  • Laura Jayne Follin

    After reading about Avedon, it has made me think deeply about photography and life.I love how he was sophisticated throughout his work,REAL LIFE!!capturing real moments. I love his work what an inspiration thank you :)

  • STANLEY WEISBART

    THE AMERICAN MASTER’S ON RICHARD AVEDON WAS MUCH ENJOYED BY ME PERSONALLY- I WAS A FAN OF HIS WORK,
    AS A FELLOW PROFESSIONAL PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER – I ADOPTED HIS GLAMOUR PORTRAIT LIGHTING TECHNIQUE, AND TO THIS DAY STILL USE IT MOST EFFECTIVELY.

    THIS 90 MINUTE DOCUMENTARY WAS MOST EFFECTIVE, AND INSPIRING, I WATCH IT ON AVERAGE OF ABOUT ONCE A MONTH…IT’S QUITE REVEALING ABOUT THIS ICON.

    NOW AT AGE 72 YEARS, AND STILL GOING STRONG, IT KEEPS ME ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT, AND I AM STILL FASCINATED WITH THIS TRUE DEFINITION OF A GENIUS!

    NOV 19,2009

  • fisheye

    I’ve looked all over to find the other photos from the 1957 9-hour photo shoot of Marilyn struting her stuff that revealed Norma Jeane at the very end. Where were the other photos published? The accidental masterpiece foreshadows… Avedon’s a master editor.The movie’s only one frame long.
    J Edgar Hoover’s jealous of her black-sequinned halter-top gown.Did her in?
    Who commissioned the session. Who chose the costume, background? How come the Norma Jeane one is presented as vertical format presented as if a full frame in SFMoMa on aluminum sheet metal(it’s cropped) and as square full-frame enlargement at The Metropolitan Museum in New York? In that vertical incarnation it belongs with the carny, coal miners,freaky beekeeper and snakeskinner, workers of the American West.Maybe the title should be Norma Jeane,Artichoke Queen of Castroville.
    It is a great portraiture telling it that shows the lonely orphan girl stripted naked with her showgirl costume still on. The mask off, the mascara still painted on.She is so beautiful,sad beatific. Candy Darling,Take a walk on Billy Wilder’s side, in the oval office you were everybody’s darling,do-da-doo-do-to-do… She invented the most famous/most photograhed icon of the 20th Century. Here’s to you Mrs.DiMaggio,who cried the day Clarke Gable died.The Factory’s closed today, silkscreens shut down to pay respect. The nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you. It’s an honor just to stand next to Avedon’s picture of you.

  • Punk_bunny

    Hello everyone i was wondering if you could help me with some information on Richard Avedon

    -Explain the context of his work
    -Methods & choice of equipment
    -Publications that featured his work
    -who influenced him
    -A famous Quote/s
    -the influence he had on other people
    -Vital information on him

    thanks a lot kind regards

  • jose

    this website is stupid it did not help me on my project at all

  • moses

    Richard Avedon is a cool kid. Fo sho home slice.

  • Harvey Sherman

    A major fan Avedon since I was in College in the 1960`s.

    I BOUGHT THE POSTER HE DID WITH NATASHAKINS AND THE SURPENT.

  • John Higdon

    I am a photographer and just went to the Richard Avedon show at the Boston MFA.

    Very well done with a large selection of work from early to late works.

    Thank you PBS…….for having this artists in your master series.

    John Higdon

    http://www.HigdonPhoto.com

  • Valter Preiman

    I am a photographer fom Latvia. Richard Avedon are the best photograpger in the world.

    Very well done with a large selection of work from early to late works.

    Thank you for having Richard Avedon in your master series.

    Walter Preiman
    http://www.photologs.net

  • DMK

    “Harvey Sherman says:
    October 10, 2010 at 12:53 am

    A major fan Avedon since I was in College in the 1960`s.

    I BOUGHT THE POSTER HE DID WITH NATASHAKINS AND THE SURPENT.”

    Holy cow! You had a college education?! Sad but funny. Nata Shakins and the surpent.

  • aminaa

    im inspired by this man . At school i have a class about photography(digital imagery) and im doing my photo’s inspired by him :) , his work has helped me alot with ideas and portraits like no other :)

  • Mark Seibold

    This is possibly my favorite of all the American Masters series. I often re-watch this one about Avedon and I loan my VHS copy to others, especially young photographers starting out such as my daughter in recent years. I am sorry to see that so many students come here and lament that they cannot find images of Avedon’s brilliant photographic works. Does this new generation not know how to use a library? I fear that it is a frustration with push any button to get the old proverbial satisfaction. There are many great published books in book stores and your local libraries with huge coffee table pictorials of Avedon’s work. As a semi-professional photographer and artist, I champion Avedon as one of my heroes. For those that only came here hoping to find photo images, I could highly recommend that you watch the entire show. It is excellent. There was also a Charlie Rose Interview done some years ago with Richard Avedon.

    Now I am having trouble finding the “play this show” button as I used to find it easily
    here.

    Enjoy!
    - Mark Seibold

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