Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light

May 15, 1923 – October 1, 2004

‘And if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible.’ – 1970

A truly meticulous and unique photographer that ‘changed the mood of fashion photography‘; Avedon was a true master of photography, he saw himself as not a taker but a creator. Following his death in 2004 The New York Times published this, ‘his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.’

This incredibly in-depth and fulfilling 90 minute documentary movie on Avedon gives you a very detailed insight into his iconic work, touching on most moments of his very full career.

Avedon was born in New York to a Jewish Russian family. In 1942 he kicked started his photography career by working for the Merchant Marines taking identification pictures of the crewmen with his Rolleiflex given to him by his father. By 1944 at just the age of 21, 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, where his career as a photographer really changed. Avedon set up his own studio in 1946 and began to produce images for magazines including Vogue and Life. He soon became the chief photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. What really made Avedon stand out above the other fashion photographers was his approach of taking fashion photographs, where in many other photographers image models would be stood emotionless, Avedon’s shots where like a breathe of fresh air, he brought movement and life to his images, allowing his models to smile and laugh.

In 1966, Avedon left Harper’s Bazaar to work as a staff photographer for Vogue magazine and proceeded to become the lead photographer of Vogue and photographed most of the covers from 1973 until late 1988 when Anna Wintour became editor in chief. He photographed many different adverts such as the Calvin Klein Jeans campaign featuring a fifteen year old Brooke Shields. He shot her for Versace, 12 American Vogue covers and Revlon’s Most Unforgettable Women campaign. In the February, 1981 issue of Newsweek, Avedon said that “Brooke is a lightning rod. She focuses the inarticulate rage people feel about the decline in contemporary morality and destruction of innocence in the world.” On working with Avedon, Shields told Interview magazine in May 1992 “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”.

Not only did he work within the fashion industry he branched out and photographed patients of mental hospitals, the Civil Rights Movement, protesters of the Vietnam War, and later the fall of the Berlin Wall. During this period, he was also able to create two famous sets of portraits of The Beatles. The first, taken in mid to late 1967, which became one of the first major rock poster series, and consisted of five striking portraits of the group — four heavily solarized individual color portraits (solarisation of prints by his assistant, Gideon Lewin, retouching by Bob Bishop) plus a group of black & white images.

Below are some of Avedon’s beautiful work along side nine 10 minute clips from the brilliant documentary on him called Richard AvedonDarkness and Light. It is fantastic documentary and well worth the watch.