Avedon is regarded as one of the most influential
photographers of the 20th Century. In addition
to having made definitive portraits of the cultural
and political leaders of the last fifty years,
his work encompasses subjects as disparate as
fashion, the Civil Rights movement, and the
fall of the Berlin Wall.
His photographs have challenged
conventions and expectations in portraiture,
documentary and fashion photography. He has
received a Master of Photography Award from
the International Center of Photography and
his work is among the collections of MoMA and
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among many others.
His books include Observations, Nothing Personal,
In the American West, An Autobiography, and
most recently, THE SIXTIES.
Richard Avedon Dies at
By MADISON J. GRAY, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK - Richard Avedon, the revolutionary
photographer who redefined fashion photography
as an art form while achieving critical acclaim
through his stark black-and-white portraits
of the powerful and celebrated, died Friday.
He was 81.
Avedon suffered a brain hemorrhage last month
while on assignment in San Antonio, Texas, for
The New Yorker, taking pictures for a piece
called "On Democracy." He spent months
on the project, shooting politicians, delegates
and citizens from around the country.
He died at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio,
said Perri Dorset, a spokeswoman for the magazine.
"We've lost one of the great visual imaginations
of the last half century," said David Remnick,
editor of The New Yorker.
Avedon's influence on photography was immense,
and his sensuous fashion work helped create
the era of supermodels such as Naomi Campbell
and Cindy Crawford (news). But Avedon went in
another direction with his portrait work, shooting
unsparing and often unflattering shots of subjects
from Marilyn Monroe to Michael Moore.
"The results can be pitiless," Time
magazine critic Richard Lacayo once noted. "With
every wrinkle and sag set out in high relief,
even the mightiest plutocrat seems just one
more dwindling mortal."
As a Publishers Weekly review once noted, Avedon
helped create the cachet of celebrity —
if he took someone's picture, they must be famous.
His fun-loving, fantasy-inspiring approach helped
turn the fashion industry into a multibillion-dollar
Scores of imitators struggled to replicate his
signature style, known simply as "The Avedon
"The world's most famous photographer,"
trumpeted a 2002 story on Avedon in The New
York Times. It was a title he wore for decades;
back in 1958, he was named one of the world's
10 finest photographers by Popular Photography
Prestigious institutions as the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York City and the National
Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., staged major
Avedon retrospectives, and his list of honors
stretched across more than 50 years. In 2003,
he received a National Arts Award for lifetime
During his career, Avedon worked for such photograph-driven
publications as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and
served as The New Yorker's first staff photographer.
His skill also earned him another title: He
was reputed to be the world's highest-paid photographer.
"He's the most wonderful man in the business
because he realizes that models are not just
coat hangers," famed model Suzy Parker
once said. An Avedon shot of Parker from 1959
was credited with igniting the bikini boom.
Avedon said his view of the world was literally
affected by his nearsightedness. "I began
trying to create an out-of-focus world —
a heightened reality better than real, that
suggests, rather than tells you," he once
told The New Yorker in an interview.
Among Avedon's best-known work was "Nothing
Personal," a 1964 collection of unflattering
photographs of affluent Americans. He collaborated
with author James Baldwin, a former classmate
at the Bronx's DeWitt Clinton High School.
Time magazine called his photos of former President
Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, Marilyn Monroe
and other celebrities "a subtler, crueler
instrument of distortion than any caricaturist's
In 2002-03, his portrait work was again highlighted
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He chose
his subjects among people who interested him,
instead of photographing people on commission.
All were shot against a white background, without
any of the typical poses or smiling faces.
Born in New York City in 1923, he experienced
a strict upbringing in which his father —
the founder of a dress shop called Avedon's
Fifth Avenue — made him account for every
penny of his five-cent weekly allowance.
In 1940, at age 17, Avedon dropped out
of high school to run errands for a photographic
company. Two years later he joined the U.S.
Merchant Marine, receiving a Rolleiflex camera
as a going-away gift from his father.
He was assigned to the Merchant Marine photo
branch, taking personnel identification photos.
Later, he went on several missions to photograph
Following wartime service, Avedon became a professional
photographer for the tony Bonwit Teller department
stores, then moved to Harper's Bazaar, where
he stayed for two decades.
His breakthrough approach to fashion photography
included extravagant settings such as NASA (news
- web sites) launch pads and the pyramids of
"There's always been a separation between
fashion and what I call my deeper work,"
Avedon said in a 1974 interview. "Fashion
is where I make my living. I'm not knocking
it; it's a pleasure to make a living that way.
Then there's the deeper pleasure of doing my
Avedon's reputation spread to Madison Avenue,
where advertisers ranging from Revlon to Douglas
Aircraft sought his services. By the mid-1960s,
his studio had upwards of $250,000 in annual
He also developed relationships with some of
the world's most sought-after models including
Dorian Leigh; Dorothy Horan, best known as Dovima;
Sunny Harnett; and Leigh's younger sister, Suzy
Avedon left Harper's Bazaar in 1966 to join
rival Vogue as a staff photographer. In 1970,
his work filled several galleries at the Minneapolis
Institute of Arts in what was called the largest
one-man photo exhibit ever.
His early career was fictionalized in the 1957
Hollywood musical "Funny Face," starring
Fred Astaire (news) as the fashion photographer
Avedon was married in 1944 to Dorcas Nowell,
a model known professionally as Doe Avedon.
They divorced after five years. In 1951, he
married Evelyn Franklin. The pair later separated.
"If a day goes by without my doing something
related to photography, it's as though I've
neglected something essential to my existence,
as though I had forgotten to wake up,"
he said in 1970. "I know that the accident
of my being a photographer has made my life