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Richard Avedon – The Icon of American Photography
 
Richard was born in New York City to a Jewish family of Jacob Israel Avedon, a Russian-born immigrant who went from being a laborer to the owner of the Avedon’s Fifth Avenue dress store, and Anna Avedon, a lover of fashion, who did her best to encourage her son's interest in arts. 
 
Avedon’s interest in photography showed early in his life. At the age of 12, he joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) Camera Club. And at the age of 21 he began working as an advertising photographer.
 
Very soon his works were discovered and appreciated by Alexey Brodovitch, the art director for the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar. He engaged the young talent first in Junior Bazaar and later in Harper's Bazaar, in the end making him the chief photographer.
 
In just a little over two years, Avedon founded his own studio and became a contractor for largest American magazines, such as Look and Graphics, Vogue and Life! 
 
By the early 60s, in addition to doing fashion photography, he started making his signature portraits civil rights workers, politicians, cultural dissidents and celebrities, including Buster Keaton, Marian Anderson, Marilyn Monroe, Ezra Pound, Isak Dinesen, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Andy Warhol, and the Chicago Seven. These portraits were characterized by the stunning lifelike appearance of the subjects, the intentionally minimalist style of the settings (usually just a blank background – very uncommon by the standards of the time), and the large formats of the prints, sometimes several feet in height.
 
Some of his works have a big value for collectors: several years ago his 1955 portrait of model Dovima set a record at Christie's, selling for £719,000!
 
His fame attracted Hollywood producers: in 1957 musical Funny Face, Fred Astaire played the role of a fashion photographer named "Dick Avery" and clearly depicting Avedon. The photographer even supplied one of his iconic still photographs for the filming, the overexposed close-up of Audrey Hepburn's face (according to the artist, Hepburn was his muse), in which only eyes, eyebrows and mouth were visible.
 
Avedon's works were distinguished both by multiple awards, including Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, National Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement and  The Royal Photographic Society's Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship, and also by their inclusion into the most prestigious exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.
 
In his lifetime, Avedon was married twice: first to a young bank teller Dorcas Marie Nowell, who would later become the model and actress Doe Avedon (the marriage lasted only 5 years and did not produce any children), and then to Evelyn Franklin, who gave him son John Avedon, the author of many books about Tibet.
 
Richard Avedon died in a San Antonio, Texas hospital of complications from a cerebral hemorrhage, while working on a new project, focused on the run-up to the 2004 U.S. presidential election.
 
Sources:
Rourke, Mary. "Photographer Richard Avedon Dies". Los Angeles Times.
Holland Cotter (July 5, 2012), Richard Avedon: ‘Murals & Portraits’ New York Times.
Whitney, Helen. "Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light". American Masters.

 


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