Richard Avedon is regarded by many as the foremost portrait photographer of the late twentieth-century.
He is one of the few to bridge the oft-separated gap as both a fashion and fine art photographer, blurring the lines between the two practices.
Avedon’s joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) camera club when he was twelve years old, display an early interest in photography. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he co-edited the school’s literary magazine, The Magpie, with James Baldwin. He joined the armed forces in 1942 during World War II, serving as Photographer’s Mate Second Class in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He studied with art director Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research and at the age of twenty-two, began working as a freelance photographer, primarily for Harper’s Bazaar. Initially denied the use of a studio by the magazine, he photographed models and fashions on the streets, in nightclubs, at the circus, on the beach and at other uncommon locations, employing the endless resourcefulness and inventiveness that became a hallmark of his art.
From the beginning of his career, Avedon made formal portraits for publication in Theatre Arts, Life, Look, and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, among many others. After guest-editing the April 1965 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, Avedon quit the magazine after facing a storm of criticism over his collaboration with models of color. He joined Vogue, where he worked for more than twenty years. In 1992, Avedon became the first staff photographer at The New Yorker, where his portraiture helped redefine the aesthetic of the magazine. During this period, his fashion photography appeared almost exclusively in the French magazine Égoïste.
Avedon’s brand-defining work resulted in some of the best-known advertising campaigns in American history. These campaigns gave Avedon the freedom to pursue major projects in which he explored his cultural, political, and personal passions, and is known for his extended portraiture of the American Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war and a celebrated cycle of photographs of his father, Jacob Israel Avedon. In 1976, for Rolling Stone magazine, he produced “The Family,” a collective portrait of the American power elite at the time of the country’s bicentennial election. From 1979 to 1985, he worked extensively on a commission from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, ultimately producing the show and book In the American West.
His first book of photographs, Observations, with an essay by Truman Capote, was published in 1959. He continued to publish books of his works throughout his life, including Nothing Personal in 1964 (with an essay by James Baldwin), Portraits 1947–1977 (1978, with an essay by Harold Rosenberg), An Autobiography (1993), Evidence 1944–1994 (1994, with essays by Jane Livingston and Adam Gopnik), and The Sixties (1999, with interviews by Doon Arbus).