Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Richard Avedon

Buongiorno to all! I am not going to excuse myself for not posting recently and can only assure you that I was not just sitting around twiddling my thumbs - there were genuine reasons why I lacked the time to post.
So... I am happy to say I have reached the hundred follower mark. Whoopee! Yes, that may not seem like a lot but it means a lot to me so thank you and keep following. I promise I will keep posting and this length of absence should not happen again.

I am currently on Holiday, in France, visiting my Grandmother and yesterday I had a marvellous time galloping around 'La Foret de Fontainebleau' with my cousins. Tomorrow, Paris!

Today, I am posting about Richard Avedon, a photographer who, and I really cannot say it better than this quote:

"His fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century."

Richard Avedon

Born: May 15th 1923, New York
Died: October 1st 2004, Texas

  • Avedon was born in New York City to a Jewish Russian family.
  • After briefly attending Columbia University, he started as a photographer for the Merchant Marines in 1942, taking identification pictures of the crewmen with his Rolleiflex camera given to him by his father as a going-away present.
  • In 1944, he began working as an advertising photographer for a department store, but was quickly discovered by Alexey Brodovitch, the art director for the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar. Lillian Bassman also promoted Avedon's career at Harper's.
  • In 1946, Avedon had set up his own studio and began providing images for magazines including Vogue and Life. He soon became the chief photographer for Harper's Bazaar.
  • Avedon did not conform to the standard technique of taking fashion photographs, where models stood emotionless and seemingly indifferent to the camera. Instead, Avedon showed models full of emotion, smiling, laughing, and, many times, in action.
  • In 1966, Avedon left Harper's Bazaar to work as a photographer for Vogue magazine. He proceeded to become the lead photographer of Vogue and photographed most of the covers from 1973 until Anna Wintour became editor in chief in late 1988.
  • Notable among his fashion advertisement photograph series are the recurring assignments for Gianni Versace, starting from the spring/summer campaign 1980. He also photographed the Calvin Klein Jeans campaign featuring a fifteen year old Brooke Shields, as well as directing her in the television commercials. 

"When Dick walks into the room, a lot of people are intimidated. But when he works, he's so acutely creative, so sensitive. And he doesn't like it if anyone else is around or speaking. There is a mutual vulnerability, and a moment of fusion when he clicks the shutter. You either get it or you don't". Brooke Shields

  • In addition to his continuing fashion work, Avedon began to branch out and photographed patients of mental hospitals, the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, protesters of the Vietnam War, and later the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • During this period, Avedon also created two famous sets of portraits of The Beatles. The first, taken in mid to late 1967, became one of the first major rock poster series, and consisted of five striking psychedelic portraits of the group — four heavily solarized individual color portraits and a black-and-white group portrait taken with a Rolleiflex camera. The next year he photographed the much more restrained portraits.
  • Avedon was always interested in how portraiture captures the personality and soul of its subject. As his reputation as a photographer became widely known, he brought in many famous faces to his studio and photographed them with a large-format 8x10 view camera. His portraits are easily distinguished by their minimalist style, where the person is looking squarely in the camera, posed in front of a sheer white background. Avedon would at times evoke reactions from his portrait subjects by guiding them into uncomfortable areas of discussion or asking them psychologically probing questions. Through these means he would produce images revealing aspects of his subject's character and personality that were not typically captured by others.
  • He is also distinguished by his large prints, sometimes measuring over three feet in height. His large-format portrait work of drifters, miners, cowboys and others from the western United States became a best-selling book and traveling exhibit entitled In the American West, and is regarded as an important hallmark in 20th century portrait photography, and by some as Avedon's magnum opus.
  • When first published and exhibited, In the American West was criticized for showing what some considered to be a disparaging view of America. Avedon was also lauded for treating his subjects with the attention and dignity usually reserved for the politically powerful and celebrities.
  • Avedon became the first staff photographer for The New Yorker in 1992. He has won many awards for his photography, including the International Center of Photography Master of Photography Award in 1993, the Prix Nadar in 1994 for his photobook Evidence, and the Royal Photographic Society 150th Anniversary Medal in 2003. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.
  • Avedon had numerous museum exhibitions around the world, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Richard & Audrey

Hollywood presented a fictional account of his early career in the 1957 musical Funny Face, starring Fred Astaire as the fashion photographer "Dick Avery." Avedon supplied some of the still photographs used in the production, including its most famous single image: an intentionally overexposed close-up of Audrey Hepburn's face in which only her famous features - her eyes, her eyebrows, and her mouth - are visible.

Hepburn was Avedon's muse in the 1950s and 1960s, and he went so far as to say "I am, and forever will be, devastated by the gift of Audrey Hepburn before my camera. I cannot lift her to greater heights. She is already there. I can only record. I cannot interpret her. There is no going further than who she is. She has achieved in herself her ultimate portrait."

Dovima with Elephants

In August 1955, Richard Avedon held an ambitious fashion shoot that was to showcase French fashion designer Christian Dior.

Although most conventional fashion images after the Second World War were shot in the studio, Avedon often created his images outside, posing his models in streets, cafés and casinos.... and the location for this shoot was inside the famous Cirque d'hiver in Paris.

The model in the Cirque d'hiver shoot was Dovima. Her real name was Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba.
Tall and slender, Dovima epitomised 1950s style and was said to be one of the highest-paid models of the period. 

The shoot took place on a hot summer's day. Avedon later recalled that when he entered the area where the elephants were kept, he saw that the animals were beautifully lit by natural light. 'I saw the elephants under an enormous skylight and in a second I knew… there was the potential here for a kind of dream image.'

In the most famous image from the shoot, Dovima is shown in an ankle-length black evening gown with a white sash. It was the first dress designed for Dior by Yves Saint-Laurent. Although the elephants each had one foot chained to the floor, they were still potentially dangerous and Dovima had to hold her nerve as they moved restlessly behind her. She is shown striking a graceful, narcissistic pose, her eyes almost closed, with one hand resting on an elephant's trunk. In the second picture, she was in a white dress with long black gloves.

The picture has become iconic for a number of reasons. First, its almost surreal juxtaposition of the model and elephants is visually arresting and unexpected, combining fantasy and reality. Second, it is beautifully lit and elegantly posed. Finally, the picture represents a contrast of opposites: youth and age, strength and frailty, grace and awkwardness, freedom and captivity. The picture's rich combination of qualities elevates it beyond the standard fashion image and into the realm of high art.
'Dovima with Elephants' is widely regarded as one of the most iconic fashion photograph of the 20th century. Avedon recognised its importance and displayed a large print of the image in the entrance to his studio for more than 20 years. He nevertheless remained unsatisfied with it. 'I look at that picture to this day and I don't know why I didn't have the sash blowing out to the left, to complete the line of the picture,' he said late in life. 'The picture will always be a failure to me because that sash isn't out there.'

Thank you for reading! Please follow and DO comment! Seriously, I don't bite... well, not all the time. 


K.C said...

Wow, what an amazing read! I love how Avedon photographed models as if they were actual people with emotions instead of having them stare blankly into the camera..

following! :)

Keit said...

Wonderful ! Your blog is so interesting. I love stumbling across bloggers, who actually have something to say !! ^_^ I'm definitely following you dear.

Sincerely Mally said...

Congrats on 100 followers!!

Sekar Atmahayu said...

wow! it's a cool post..
keep posting dear.
btw mind to follow each other? :)

Miss Daisy said...

Thanks for your comment! You've got such an interesting blog!

Amelia said...

thanks a lot :*

dimitri said...

It's a perfect and very interesting post.
I love Avedon, a fantastic photographer.
Love this photo with Audrey and the cat. Absolutely perfect.
Joyeuses fêtes de Pâques.

devorelebeaumonstre. said...

nice! xx

Vivid Virginia said...

Wonderful post! :)

carla said...

How fun would it be to pose with a couple of elephants?? awesome! I love Audrey Hepburn, her yellow hat is pretty skilled:) I am following.

Antonella Leone said...

IT's teh first time that I'd looked your blog and I like it :)

Rosalind said...

Avedon is one of my all time favourite photographers. I pore over the huge book of his photography I was given 2 years ago. Just about every shot is an inspiration and a master class in both technique and intuition.

VioletaMeynell said...

nice blog, following you now)