Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon

2005 Honoree: Special Tribute


Richard AvedonFor more than 50 years, New York native, Richard Avedon, had been filling the finest magazines with his candid and insightful photographs. “No one has given a nation a more wide-ranging, disciplined photographic document of itself,” John Lahr noted in The New York Times.

In 1942 Avedon dropped out of high school to join the photographic section of the Merchant Marines. After the war, he became the chief photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. There, he elevated fashion photography to an art form; shattering the convention that models should project indifference. Instead, Avedon’s models laughed, danced, played in the rain, and engaged in other emotional vignettes. After two decades with Bazaar, Avedon became a staff photographer at Vogue.

In 1959 he published Observations, a book of photographs with text by Truman Capote. The civil rights movement in the South in 1963 was the subject for his next book, Nothing Personal, in which he collaborated with James Baldwin. However, Avedon’s real passion was portraiture, which he did with a stark honesty. “A portrait is not a likeness,” he said. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth.

Avedon had many major exhibitions, including a 1970 portrait retrospective at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; photographs of his father, Jacob Israel Avedon, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1974; and Avedon: Photographs 1947–1977, a retrospective of his fashion work, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Avedon also published nine other books, including Alice in Wonderland, Portraits, Photographs 1947–1977, In the American West, An Autobiography, Evidence, The Sixties, Made in France and Richard Avedon Portraits. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Harvard University, Certificate of Recognition (1986–87); Royal College of Art, London, Honorary Doctorate (1989); the International Center of Photography Master of Photography Award (1993); the Royal Photographic Society 150th Anniversary Medal (2003); and Americans for the Arts National Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement (2003).

On October 1st, 2004, Avedon passed away at the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas while working on “Democracy”, a portfolio of photographs for The New Yorker magazine. The Richard Avedon Foundation has been established to preserve the legacy of his triumphant career.