I have a ton of favorite photographers. They range across a wide swath of disciplines from fashion to journalism to celebrity portraiture. The one photographer who's constantly at the top of my list is the late Richard Avedon, who I believe should be on the short list of the greatest American artists of our time.
I grabbed the recently-released Avedon Archives app from the app store, produced by the Richard Avedon Foundation. The app is great; it gives you a bird's eye view of the breadth of the highlights of Avedon's work - it's really amazing to see. I've mentioned him a few times on my blog but I realize his story may not be well known outside of photographic circles, so I wanted to take a little time to talk about him here.
I think if there was any one photographer's work and career I could replicate moment for moment, it'd be Avedon's. He was able to maintain a signature that transcended technique, and apply it fluidly across a wide range of photographic genres. I especially love his fashion and celebrity work, but he was equally brilliant working outside of those contexts, as can be seen in his book In The American West.
Richard Avedon's career spanned from the '40s all the way to 2004, the year he died. Some of the most iconic images of some of the most iconic people of the past century were produced by him. He shot for Look, Life, Graphis, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker, and the french magazine Egoïste. He's done ad campaigns for Revlon and Versace, shot the Pirelli Calendar, released numerous books and photographed nearly every important person of his time, from Marilyn Monroe to Dwight Eisenhower to Pablo Picasso and Audrey Hepburn, Malcom X and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Louis Armstrong, Prince and, in something of a stroke of prescience, a young Senator Barack Obama in 2004.
In 1964, he- along with high-school classmate, lifetime friend and another of America's greatest artists, James Baldwin- collaborated on the book Nothing Personal, full of each of their artistic musings on the country they called home. Some of Avedon's landmark images fill these pages.
His photographic style was characterized by his abillity to communicate the vitality of his subjects - or lack of such - so viscerally in still image. Fashion model Erin O'Connor described his style as wanting to capture the moment before the moment; the intention of a movement before the body would actually reach a particular movement - readily apparent in his photographs of Veruschka and Twiggy.
He helped introduce movement and life into fashion photography, which at the time of his ascendance into notoriety was very much a static, stoic landscape. Models were posed and statuesque; Avedon danced with his subjects and snapped them in motion, the results of which would revolutionize the way photography featured in fashion magazines. I assume much of his technical skill - especially as it pertained to print magazines - was honed under the guidance of such legendary figures like Alexey Brodovitch and Diana Vreeland, his creative director and fashion editor (respectively) for many years at Harper's Bazaar. He had a flawless sense of design in his photographs, from symmetry and asymmetry to contrast, color and general composition. Most importantly, though, he was able to couple all of that technical skill with the skillful presentation of the human condition - devoid of bias - in his portraits.
The way he deftly moved from portraiture to fashion to reportage without missing a step was a thing of beauty, and when you look at the overview of his legacy, it's quite staggering. That kind of insatiable curiosity to see the world through his lenses is something I try to emulate everyday. There's endless things to say about Avedon, but really, nothing communicates his greatness like his photographs.