The Importance of Richard Avedon

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Richard Avedon Photo: Getty Images

Models in Vogue often pose jumping, ponytails trailing in the air behind them, feet hovering above the ground, a grin on their face. Did you ever wonder why? That is the influence of the great Richard Avedon, whose work is the subject of a retrospective at the International Center of Photography from May 15 to September 6. He died five years ago at age 81. His images were a reflection of him — energetic, cheerful, always "jumping around," according to his friend Adam Gopnik, the writer. He treated his models wonderfully, always asking what food and music they'd like for their shoot. And they wanted to please him in return. Though Twiggy's career didn't last that long — America's Next Top Model judging gigs aside — Avedon's photographs of her make us see her as the definitive sixties girl.

Avedon was also groundbreaking in how he viewed beauty. Avedon shot portraits of everyday people in addition to fashion models. And in these he saw no distinction.

“I certainly think — I know — that the apparent line between his fashion photography and his portraits was false, that he saw it as continuous work,” Mr. Gopnik said, adding that Avedon was amused at how people could look at the empty face of a model and find it more beautiful than the worn face of a coal miner.


Avedon received harsh critiques of some of his portrait work. Gopnik supposes that was simply because he was good-looking and vivacious and critics were jealous. However, the idea of ugly beauty is what defines, for one, the house of Prada. You can see Avedon's work from 1978 on in the ICP show.

How Avedon Blurred His Own Image [NYT]