Richard Avedon (May 15, 1923 – October 1, 2004)

Richard Avedon was born in 1923 in New York to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Avedon left high school to join the Merchant Marine Academy as a photographer, taking personnel identification photos and photographs of shipwrecks. When his time at the Merchant Marine Academy ended, he moved on to a job as a photographer for a department store. However, this job only lasted two years because Avdeon was discovered by an employee of Harper’s Bazaar and soon joined their ranks as a photographer. From this experience he went on to photograph for Vogue, Look, and various other publications.

Avdeon’s first love of photographer is the portrait because of its ability to take a subject and capture the “truth” within a subject. As he became more famous for his style and ability, Avedon was able to photograph more celebrities and public figures. His pictures painted their public perception visually and allowed for a new essence to be capture, making them more relatable to the public, more human. Avedon’s artistic beauty is credited to his ability to make his subjects comfortable, thus creating an ability to capture the raw, intimate essence of his subjects.

Richard Avedon’s style is usually minimalistic. His portraits are taken against a white backdrop with am ample amount of lighting on his subjects. A majority of his images/portraits capture some form of movement from his subjects, allowing for a more candid and spontaneous take. Still, his photos remain classic and formal even with the level of spontaneity contained.

Avedon worked with Truman Capote to document the lives of American elites and public figures. This book was titled Observations and focused on capturing photos of individuals seen as the most famous and notable individuals at the time (1959) such as Gloria Vanderbilt. However, Avedon’s photography was not limited to entertainment figures. He dipped in the realm of political and social explication. Aroudn the time of Observations, Avedon began taking photos of patients in mental hospitals. He capture the raw existence of the patience and what they went through on a daily basis.

Harper’s Bazaar continued to have Avedon as part of their ranks throughout the 1960’s.  He also published another book titled Nothing Personal with colleague and friend James Baldwin.  For the next two decades Avedon mainly did work for Vogue. In the early nineties, Richard Avedon became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker.   In 1994 the Whitney Museum honored Avedon by creating an exhibit to show the past fifty years of his work in a retrospective titled “Richard Avedon: Evidence”.

In 1958 he was named one of the worlds “10 Finest Photographers” by Popular Photography Magazine. In 1989 Avedon received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in London.In 2003, he received a national arts award for lifetime achievement.

Richard Avedon’s bulb blew out  on October 1, 2004

This image of Tina Turner, like the majority of Avedon’s photos, has a shallow depth of focus. This helps to establish Turner as the focus/emphasis of the photo and places her close enough to the viewer that makes her more approachable and raw. There is a straight line to her body that shows stability and a fierce personality. However, the diagonal lines of her legs present Turner in motion. It is this movement that helps further portray Tina Turner’s character or personality. She is an entertainer by trade and diva by art. The motion that she is in presents her as a performer aimed at entertainment. The posture that Turner presents, gives off an essence of “fierceness”, a large part of Turner’s reputation. The lighting in the picture fully illuminates the subject (Turner). However, the lighting seems very natural and formal. The light composition of the lighting presents a gentle texture that makes the subject more visually approachable. Turner is not perfectly in the center and her left leg lies near an intersection. The picture is therefore balanced and further approachable to the viewer. The emotion on Turner’s face presents a fun, spritied, and passionate individual.  It is the culmination of all of these tactics that forms a picture that is both beautiful and formal. Avedon’s artistic decisions with his photos establish his subjects as the main focus and portray a raw essence of the subject’s that make them more approachable to viewers.


In character with the majority of Avedon’s photos, this portrait of Charles Chaplin has a shallow depth of focus. In comparison to the photo of Tina Turner, the picture of Chaplin is even shallower. The lack of lines in the background simplify the picture while retaining focus on the subject. Chaplin is caught making a somewhat clenched face and hand gesture. The subject is at an angle and therefore is more dynamic. Chaplin’s hands fall on line creating a more dynamic pose. His dark shirt create a dark bottom half of the picture, however his face is well lit (it is after all the focus of the picture). The “fun” face portrayed by Chaplin presents his dynamic personality as an individual and entertainer.


This portrait of Hilary Clinton presents a softer side of the notable politician. Through the soft shades of grey, white, and black there is a gentle essence portrayed by this photo of a gentle individual. The motion capture in the smile presents a “bright” and happy soul. She is almost somewhat playful which contrasts to her persona as a tough, rugged, no nonsense public figure. The lighting on her face presents it as well lit and soft. Hilary is off-centered and her face lies on a line, making the figure more dynamic.

Richard Avedon’s work is very bold in its value of black and white. The images are still soft enough to be approachable, but they present a “close” view of the subjects. When an individual first views his work, the images appear to be just average portraits. However, there is a deeper meaning, a greater worth to the photos. Each subject is directly in the face of the viewer and their personalities/character are presented within the emotion and style of the picture. Subjects are in some form of motion that portrays a feeling or essence of the picture to the viewer. The style of the photos bring the subject to the viewer, these subjects are notable figures that are almost off limits to the average person, but these images give viewers a raw portrayal of the subject. The lighting puts the entire focus on the subject, and helps to portray the characteristics of the individual. This is why I find these pictures to be so beautiful, the photos themselves have a personality but it based off of the personality of the subject. Avedon gives a new meaning to the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, by creating a style that presents the subject physically and intrinsically through the medium (the picture). At time there is even an unknown or lesser known side of the subject portrayed, such as the “gentle” photo of Hilary Clinton. I think this is also the main purpose of Avedon’s work, to make the subjects of his photos more accessible by presenting them in a raw fashion to viewers.


Sources

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/richard-avedon/about-the-photographer/467/

http://www.designboom.com/history/avedon.html

http://www.richardavedon.com/


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