If there is one iconic image which sums up all that is glamour and stardom within the realms of fashion and Hollywood then it has to be that over-exposed, stark image of Audrey Hepburn’s eyes, eyebrows and lips from the 1957 musical Funny Face'. Though the image might be familiar, you might not know much about the man behind the camera, the photographer is the late Richard Avedon.
Born in 1923, Avedon spent his life snapping everyone from soot-covered miners to Marylin Monroe. His first job out of school was working for the Merchant Marines, taking identification pictures of crewmen. He was soon snapped up by Harpers Bazaar before setting up his own studio in 1946 and producing hundreds of images for magazines such as Vogue and Life.
What set Avedon apart was that he captured more of the individual character of his subject than other photographers managed with their conventional approach of shooting dead-pan, motionless models. Avedon provoked an emotional reaction from his subjects by delving into uncomfortable conversations with them, he often caught them smiling, laughing, or in motion. It was this unique style which won him the position of lead photographer at Vogue and he shot most of the covers himself from 1973 to 1988.
Another of Avedon's most famous shots was this, of Brook Shields for Calvin Klein Jeans, one of her first modeling jobs. He also shot two infamous sets of portraits of The Beatles, one of which below is a heavily solarised colour print. It wasn't just the glitz and the glamour of fashion which Avedon was interested in, he also photographed patients in mental hospitals, protesters of the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, miners, oil field workers, unemployed drifters and rebellious teenagers. What is most interesting is that no matter who his model was, he treated everybody the same on a shoot.
Hepburn was Avedon's muse in the 1950s and 1960s, and he went so far as to say "I am, and forever will be, devastated by the gift of Audrey Hepburn before my camera. I cannot lift her to greater heights. She is already there. I can only record. I cannot interpret her. There is no going further than who she is. She has achieved in herself her ultimate portrait."
It was insights like this which brought the public closer to their idols via Avedon's lens and this is why he is such a photographic legend and should always be remembered and celebrated as such.
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