"All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."
What do Jean Genet, Jimmy Durante, Brigitte Bardot, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacques Cousteau, Andy Warhol, & Lena Horne have in common? They are just a few of the many personalities caught on film by photographer Richard Avedon. For 50+ years, Avedon’s portraits have filled the pages of the country’s best magazines. His stark imagery & brilliant insight into his subjects’ characters has made him one of the most important American portrait photographers.
I am a fan photography, with a special weakness for 20th century photographers. I find myself returning to various images over & over. I have always been captivated by Richard Avedon's ability to tell a story in a deceptively simple photo. I always wanted him to do the cover for my early album from 1970- Candy Coated Codine, Cognac, Consolation & Cowboys.
Avedon was among the first to challenge the conventional boundaries between studio photography & reportage. Some of his portraits: a young Bob Dylan standing in the rain, Marilyn Monroe caught in a vulnerable moment, Andy Warhol & his Factory crew, are the most iconic of the 20th century.
His daring style rejected conventional poses & instead captured both motion & emotion in the faces of his subjects, catching the intrigue in a single honest moment.
From his breakthrough Paris fashion work in the 1950s; his portrait of American counterculture in the 1960s & 1970s; his Reagan era series, with an emphasis on ordinary people living in the western United States; & his portraits of the nation's most influential people, his work live on.
Along with 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 & important people of the century. Observations included images of Buster Keaton, Gloria Vanderbilt, Pablo Picasso, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frank Lloyd Wright, & Mae West.
In the early 1960s he began a series of images of patients in mental hospitals. Replacing the environment of the studio with that of the hospital ,he could 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. In the 1980s & 1990s he would mover from his celebrity portraits to a series of studio images of drifters, carnival workers, & working class Americans.
Richard Avedon was born on this day- May 15th, in 1923 in NYC to Russian Jewish parents; he died in 2004 of a cerebral hemorrhage in San Antonio, Texas, where he was on assignment for The New Yorker.