Biography of Richard Avedon (1923-2004)

American photographer born in New York on May 15, 1923 and died in Texas on October 1, 2004. His vision of fashion photography and his magnificent portraits became him in one of the most important photographers of the 20th century.


After the second world war, New York is replaced Paris as the center of all creative activities and as a fashion capital. The school of Paris transferred his leadership title to the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. The American fashion industry met its first major international successes and there was someone like Richard Avedon, with enough talent to masterfully portray those changes.

He started in photography in 1943, completely self-taught, after leaving his studies of philosophy at the New York University of Colombia. He possessed a special talent a natural style and freshness that perfectly married a society tired of war and lends itself to enjoy works by Avedon, in which cites the exuberance and versatility of the youth.

He was twenty-one years old when he made his first shots for the prestigious fashion "Harper's Bazaar" magazine, protected by Alexey Brodovitch, the publication director. Only a year later, he was known as a "child prodigy". In 1959, his book observations, with text by Truman Capote containing portraits of personalities from the world of Arts and some photos of fashion comes to light. Although the portrait was a technique well known to the author, who knew to extract all the intimacy of the portrayed, preferred to devote himself to the photography of fashion, which transcribes his own vision of glamour: leave the study to their models to the streets, cafes and walks of Paris, or even the Zoo or circus, certainly unusual places for fashion.

The novelty of his work was based in part on the choice of the model, but also on the strength of the contrast and the general impression of one impeccable elegance, all which produced a significant impact in the world, to which contributed this new way of looking at the woman. His photographs have been an unavoidable model for the next generation of photographers.

He was commissioned to photograph the collections of French fashion during the 1950s. Paris, especially in his role as a night, it becomes a place full of charm, since his models posed in the most fascinating places of the capital. During these years, his work gains in sophistication and skill. In the following decade, photography became for Avedon in the Middle through which examine the reality of life, and although the theme is fashion, your photos are authentic social documents of its time. Your choice of the model always reflected contemporary ideals: the flawless beauty of the previous decade gave the post to the exotic charm of models such as China Machado, Twiggy and Lauren Hutton.

In the 1960s, he abandoned the foreign outlets and preferred to work in Studio because it "... insulates people from their environment (...) they become symbols of themselves... "; Although it retained the movement and vitality of his early works, replaced by hard light romantic clarity. He developed a genre of studio photography itself, the image "avedoniana", in which, on a completely white background, the model runs, jumps, laughs... Avedon was the first to combine the static tradition of the study of the 1930s, with the lush realism of exterior photos.

In the following decade the author took refuge on the one hand in the privacy of the study and, on the other hand, in the intimacy of the sociological portrait. After the series of photos about the agony of his father, which reflected not only the expression of suffering but also the degradation of a strong personality, Avedon was launched towards the demystification of the American West, this friendly place of spaces unfathomable and cowboys riding at dusk, showing the world's workers, miners, unemployed, a pitiful image that caused no little outrage.

Not so, Avedon left the path of the complaint, this time, with the number of Louisiana State Hospital, with brilliant photographic series on the mentally ill, and victims of napalm, a bitter view of the Viet Nam war. Gone are those impeccable images full of joie de vivre by the elegance and beauty, to make way for the tormented vision of a difficult and divided world. Fashion photography exalted him among the greats, the social portrait strengthened him among the best.

Death surprised him working on a project titled On democracy to the magazine The New Yorker with portraits of politicians, delegates and citizens of all the United States before the elections in their country in November 2004. A stroke ended his life at the age of eighty-one.


Sougez, Marie-Loup: History of photography. Madrid: Cátedra, 1985.

VV..: photography of the 20th century. Cologne: Taschen, 1997.