The Artist Birthday Series

Richard Avedon

Today’s Artist Birthday: Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon (May 15, 1923 – October 1, 2004) was an American fashion and portrait photographer. His celebrity, fashion, and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half of the twentieth century.


Avedon was born in New York City, NY, in 1923. His father, Jacob Israel Avedon, was a Russian-born immigrant who advanced from menial work to starting his own successful retail dress business on Fifth Avenue, called Avedon’s Fifth Avenue. His mother, Anna, whose family owned a dress-manufacturing business, encouraged Richard’s love of fashion and art. Avedon’s interest in photography emerged when, at age 12, he joined a Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) Camera Club. He would use his family’s Kodak Box Brownie not only to feed his curiosity about the world, but also to retreat from his personal life. His father was a critical and remote disciplinarian who insisted that physical strength, education and money prepared one for life. Avedon would later cause a degree of controversy with his “Father Series;” a series of images of his father over a period of time as the elder Avedon was dying.

Jacob Isreal Avedon, photographed by his son Richard Avedon for the "Father Series" produced in 197
Jacob Isreal Avedon, photographed by his son Richard Avedon for the “Father Series” produced in 1974. The series  was controversial as it was a deep, visual examination and revelation of the process of death.
death
Jacob Isreal Avedon, sleeping just months before his death, photographed by his son Richard Avedon for the “Father Series” produced in 1974. The series was controversial as it was a deep, visual examination and revelation of the process of death.

The photographer’s first muse was his younger sister, Louise. During her teen years she struggled through psychiatric treatment. And, eventually, becoming increasingly withdrawn from reality, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was later institutionalized and died at the age of 42. His love for his sister often expressed itself in his desire to capture tragic beauty in his photos.

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