Fashion is as much about the images that we see as the clothing depicted. The image determines how we see the garment, and acts as a mirror for our fantasies. Photographers capture the essence and the mood and sell it to you, the consumer. Richard Avedon took the art of fashion photography to new heights during his 50-year career. Sparked by the movement in photographs by Martin Munkacsi, Avedon was obsessed with bringing movement and life into his work. In his images models danced, shouted, jumped, and fell. The pictures transcended fashion to become a visual guide to all that was beautiful.
Avedon began his career as a photographer for the Merchant Marines – he had dropped out of high school to join. When he got out in 1944, he got a job snapping for a department store. Two years later he was discovered by Harper’s Bazaar and went on to shoot for Vogue and every other magazine that existed.
He wasn’t just shooting fashion, though – he also did advertising campaigns and portraits. He’s one of the few photographers who had as much art world legitimacy as he did fashion cred, who also had the business sense to build a legendary advertising career. He’s also one of the few that admit that all of his photographs are about himself. Perhaps that’s why they connect with the audience so well – he sees himself in every subject.
Avedon’s work has always maintained a larger-than-life quality, which came to a head in the 80’s and 90’s. He worked with Brooke Shields for her Calvin Klein ads, and went on to infuse supermodel-populated ads for Versace with a playful sexuality. After so many years of shooting, these ads show him at the top of his game. Perfect lighting that sculpts muscles and cheekbones, hair flying everywhere, the models seem to have stepped out of a Michelangelo fresco. While everything is swirling and flying, there is also a sense of classicism, as if everything in the photographed happened in some private universe.
Richard Avedon died on October 1st, 2004.
Images courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.