“My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues. But whenever I become absorbed in the beauty of a face, in the excellence of a single feature, I feel I’ve lost what’s really there…” Richard Avedon, 1980
Philosophy was early present in Richard Avedon (1923-2004) life – which he studied for two years in the University at the age of 18 – and was kept and revealed through his texts and words during his journey through life. But it was photography that took his heart and led him to an intense living of photographing people’s surface, started by the influence of his father, then when he served in the photography department of the US Merchant Marine for two years, taking identity photographs of servicemen, and after while he studied photography for six years under Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research
His portfolio is remarkable – as you check one by one all his photographs in Richard Avedon Foundation website, you will find many familiar faces from the art, music, film, literature, theater and politics world, with which one can create a deluxe album of 70s to 90s world personalities.
His work was constantly published in magazines, as he was a collaborator for Harper’s Bazaar, Theatre Arts, Vogue, Egoïst and The New Yorker, photographing not only portraits but also fashion themes. Alongside with this editorial facet, Avedon was also interested in capturing daily life and social matters such as the New York life, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement in America in the end of the 60s and the New Year’s Eve at Bradenburg Gate, Berlin 1989.
Nevertheless, Avedon’s exquisite photography skills are highlighted in portraits. Focusing on surface, with no primary intention of capturing a deep feeling or emotion, Avedon preferred photographing in his studio to detach his subject from all space and time references. The person is not only the centre of his work but almost every time the only element in the photograph, leaving no elements that may cause prejudice. As he portrayed many personalities with a public life story, one of his greatest strengths was eliminating their context and circumstances for being famous, treating them as timeless interpreters of the world looking at you with a familiar and human attitude, full of texture and light in black and white photos.
His works were published in several books: Observations, with texts by the Breakfast at Tiffany’s author, Truman Capote; Nothing Personal, with the writer James Baldwin; In the American West; Evidence; Avedon: the sixties; Richard Avedon: Made in France; and an autobiography. He also enrolled in exhibitions: in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, in the early 60s, in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, in the end of the 60s, in MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art in NY in 1974. Filming was also present in his work, as he was first responsible by the photography and visual consulting for the movie Funny Face, by Stanley Donen, director of the worl-acclaimed Singing in the Rain, and considered the king of american musicals, and also directed television commercials.
During his life, he earned several recognitions for the excellence of his work, such as the election by Popular Photography in 1958 as one of the best world photographers, a certification by Harvard University, a Honoris Causa Doctorate by the Parsons School of design and other prizes, awards and exhibitions.
“I believe in maniacs. I believe in type As. I believe that you’ve got to love your work so much that it is all you want to do. I believe you must betray your mistress for your work, you betray your wife for your work; I believe that she must betray you for her work. I believe that work is the one thing in the world that never betrays you, that lasts. If I were going to be a politician, if I were going to be a scientist, I would do it every day. I wouldn’t wait for Monday. I don’t believe in weekends.” Richard Avedon, 1988
Avedon was a self-proclaimed workaholic – stated as the only way for a full living and with no other reason to live than photographing everyday.