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Richard Avedon was called “the world’s most famous photographer” by the New York Times in1992. In a photography career that spanned over 50 years Richard Avedon chronicled our times. His work influenced the fields of art, fashion and reportage. His greatest achievement has been his influence on the genre of portrait photography. Avedon was born in New York City in 1923. He became chief photographer for Harper’s Bazaar in the late 1940’s. In 1959 he published his first book of photographs Observations. In the 1960’s and70’s he photographed both war protestors and military leaders. In the 70’s and 80’s he worked for Vogue producing many famous portraits from these decades. Throughout these decades he had several major exhibitions and book publications. In 1985, he exhibited his controversial series In the American West. In 1997, he became the first staff photographer for the New Yorker. The Whitney Museum exhibited a retrospective of 50 years of his work” Richard Avedon Evidence” in 1999. Avedon died in 2004 while on assignment for the New Yorker for a project titled “On democracy”. As a testament to his work’s enduring power its continues to be exhibited and published today. Avedon photographed famous celebrities, models, artists, the powerful as well as the poor and working class Americans. Throughout his career Avedon maintained a unique style. His portraits are minimalist. He uses no props, they are well lit, and he photographs his subjects with a large format8”x10” camera in front of a white backdrop. His photographs are printed large sometimes over three feet in height appearing life sized. His minimal style emphasizes the subject’s gaze and gesture. He was interested in how portraiture captured the personality and soul of its subject and produced images that revealed aspects of the subject’s character and personality. Avedon said of his work

“ I worked out a series of no’s. No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative. And all these force me to a “yes”. I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.”


· youtube video Richard Avedon Darkness and Light parts 1-9

· (Avedon Foundation website)


· watch the Avedon video Richard Avedon Darkness and Light(parts 1-9)

· View his photographs on the website

· Write a 1-2 page essay on the work of Richard Avedon and submit by next class period

Write your reactions to Avedon’s work and discuss at least 2 photographs including the portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

Discuss the photograph Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, 1957. This image was taken at the end of a long photography session when she was exhausted. In what way can this image be described as a performance and does it reveal an entirely different aspect of what it means to perform?

Is there something personal or universal in Avedon’s image?

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