Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon is one of the most important portrait photographers of the 20th Century. By the end of his career, he had photographed some of the most important artists, intellectuals, celebrities and icons of the age as well as working class Americans for one of his most important personal projects ‘The American West’.

Richard Avedon is one of the most important photographers of the second half of the twentieth century.  During a career that spanned 60 years, his portrait and fashion work defined the medium of photography.  More than any other photographer he successfully worked to erase the distinction between photography and fine art, with early solo museum shows at The Smithsonian (1962) and the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Art (1970).  In 1978 he became the first living photographer to be awarded a solo show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  He had a second retrospective show there in 2002.


Born in New York City in 1923, Richard Avedon dropped out of DeWitt Clinton High School and joined the Merchant Marine during World War II.  Upon discharge in 1944, he immediately found work at several magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, which published his earliest fashion and portrait work beginning in November of that year.   


Throughout his life, Avedon maintained a unique style of portraiture that combined the rigor of the studio with the spontaneity of location work.  Working sometimes for magazines, and often for his own account, he photographed portraits of people from every field and all walks of life.  For a museum commission from the Amon Carter in 1978, Avedon spent more than five years traveling and creating “In the American West”, a landmark portrait series of ordinary Americans that is among his best-known work (1985).    


Avedon published books of his portraits beginning with Observations, with an essay by Truman Capote.  In 1964, he and his high school friend James Baldwin published Nothing Personal, a book about the American Civil Rights movement, which was reissued with a new introduction by Hilton Als in 2017.  In 1992, Avedon became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker magazine.  He followed this with the book and show Evidence (1994) at The Whitney Museum of American Art. 


Avedon was awarded many awards and honorary degrees, including one from the Royal College of Art in London.  He died in October 2004.