In the world of fashion photography, Annie Leibovitz is a household name and is a major inspiration for photography degree students, but a great photographer like Annie has her own inspirations and influences; one of those was Richard Avedon.
For twenty years his photographs graced the covers of Harper’s Bazar and then Vogue. Avedon is responsible for the action look of fashion photography, before him models simply stood still and stared at the camera lens. Avedon was also a portraitist whose subjects ranged from famous actors, musicians and politicians to civil rights activists, and the average Joe of the American West.
Richard Avedon began his photography career in 1942. After attending Columbia University, he joined the Merchant Marines and began taking photos with the Rolleiflex camera his father had given him as a going away present. His photos caught the attention of Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar. By 1946, Avedon had his own studio and became the chief photographer for Harper’s. By the 1950s, Avedon grew tired of shooting outdoor, daylight photos and began working solely from his studio with an emphasis in the strobe lighting technique.
In 1962, Avedon joined Vogue as a staff photographer, a coveted position for any photography degree student, and produced elegant vibrant covers until 1988, when Anna Wintour took over as editor-in-chief of the popular publication. Notable fashion ad campaigns include the Calvin Klein Jeans ads featuring Brooke Shields (he also directed her in the commercial for the same ad) and the 1980 Spring/Summer Gianni Versace collection.
Outside the world of fashion, Avedon photographed And Warhol and the feature players of his famous Factory; took what would be used as the first rock-n-roll posters of the Beatles in the late 60s. His celebrity portrait subjects also included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Audrey Hepburn. He took studio portraits of patients from mental hospitals, Vietnam protesters and various cultural dissidents. He was there, clicking away at the capture button when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And in 1992, Avedon became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker.
Known for his minimalist style and soul revealing portraits, Avedon created 15 books of his photography. His most famous work, In the American West, features 125 portraits of miners, cowboys, drifters and local inhabitants of the American West. Although criticized for its demoralizing view of conditions in the U.S.; his work has been featured in many exhibitions in the world’s most prestigious art museums, including the Met in New York City, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the International center of Photography. In 2010, is seven foot high print of Dovima modeling a Christian Dior dress sold a Christie’s for $1,138,559.
A prolific career in the world of photography doesn’t happen overnight. It takes education, training and dedication, but having your work published or recognized makes the struggle towards the photography degree well worth it. I’m sure Avedon would agree.
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