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Photography Richard Avedon Essay

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“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”—these are just of the famous words of one of the greatest photographers of out time, Richard Avedon.

                In March 15, 1923, a Russian-Jewish immigrant couple gave birth to a baby boy. His name is Richard Avedon. No one thought that he would become one of the most notable photographers of our time. He attended the Dewitt Clinton High School in Bronx, New York but in 1940, at age 17, he dropped out of high school and decided to go into the Merchant Marine’s photographic sector; of which he was assigned to take photographs of the personnel.

As time passed, he joined numerous missions to take pictures of shipwrecks. When he returned home in 1944, he instantly had an employment as a photographer for a certain department store. At the start, he earned his living mainly through various works in advertising.

Within the two years that he had been working through that job, a director from Harper’s Bazaar spotted him and he began to work for the magazine.

Later on, he also did photography jobs for Vogue, Look and many other related magazines (Avedon). He also became popular for his stylistic and ground-breaking fashion portfolio that was frequently set in dramatic and amusing locales. During these times, he realized however that his real passion was portraiture and its capability to articulate its subject(Wilson).

He said numerous times in various interviews and magazines that there are basically two major influences all throughout his career. His “first professional” flirtation with the camera was when he join the merchant marines during the war. He reiterated that the raw professionalism that was required to develop those photographs called for an outright approach that afterward educated a portrait technique that have been described by many as ruthless and even merciless. Those moments in his life became very influential and made a very deep impact in the way he took his photographs all throughout his career. Even though he did not have a formal education and training as a photographer, that situation was a foremost learning experience for him. He learned to handle the camera, take the right angles and adjust the proper lighting among others.

The other influence that had a bang on him is the elegant movements of the body, joie de vivre, common people and ordinary situations that happen in the streets. Because he grew up and got oriented with the people from his neighborhood, for him, the most genuine expressions can be expressed without a camera. In his photographs, these are his main objective—to capture people in their sincerest attitudes and forms. He had to live up to his reputation as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the modern times. There are also some photographers that he looked up to like Martin Munkacsi a prominent Hungarian photographer during his time. Munkacsi’s works of models running in nature amplified his curiosity in fashion photography (Edwards).

            As one of the most reputable fashion photographer, he was able to modernize portraiture and fashion photography to instantly create a particular aesthetic that was able to influence countless other photographers. His signature technique was the outsized format studio portraits of his subjects which include writers, politicians and artists. He utilizes desolate white backgrounds and life-size printing which makes his viewers feel as if they are in/with a bond to the image; which is often a substantial and almost provoking experience. He has the ability to generate visual tension and astonish his viewer through unanticipated contrasts.

As a portrait artist, his images are inimitable. Characteristically, they are usually the frontal angles of his subjects which often are rather full body or head. Mostly, is it in black and white and is taken against a white background. The resolution is typically impressive and the faces gaze right out from the pages with unwavering stare; thus conveying the vulgar intensity that we only usually see through our own reflections. Moreover, Avedon states that he usually pays close attention to the littlest details in his photographs. His philosophy, when it comes to his various subjects is that, the “objective recording of a subject is a fiction.” Accordingly, his photographs offer views by which we can construct an admiration of things that are too complex to be carefully captured by a solitary photograph (Staff).

            Although Avedon did not have a formal education and training at photography, his own experiences as a photographer for the merchant marines and in advertising landed him various photography jobs at leading magazines. Although it seems undeniable that he had the knack for photography, his determination, workmanship, ideas and professionalism led him to the pinnacle of his success. In the fashion industry, he is a notable photographer. Almost all throughout his career, he had taken pictures of some very interesting subjects which are mostly models, celebrities and politicians.

But besides being a fashion photographer, he is also known as a portraiture artist and over the years, he has turned his career from that area into a more driven, natural and humane aspect. During the last years of his career, he ventured into taking pictures of the common people. The raw attitude that he gives to his subject are very obvious in his pictures. One can feel that the pictures are almost like talking to you. Undeniably, he is one of the purveyors of black and white photography in the modern times. His works are the most natural emotions that humans feel. The fact that only few photographers are able to take photographs of the most popular people at their most candid moments makes him truly one of the best photographers in the world.

Works Cited:

Avedon, Richard. An Autobiography. 1st ed ed, 1993.

Edwards, Owen. “Fashion Faux Paw.” Smithsonian, 2005.

Staff. “Photographic Portraiture and the Work of Richard Avedon.” 2008.

Wilson, Laura. Avedon at Work: In the American West. University of Texas Press, 2003.


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