Richard Avedon Biography

Richard Avedon, the renowned photographer who shaped and defined America’s fashion and style in the late 20th century, is remembered for his captivating energy, freedom, and excitement captured through his clicks. With his minimalistic and probing portraits, Avedon added vibrancy to the realm of fashion photography, filling the pages of prestigious magazines in the United States. His breathtaking photographs have been exhibited at renowned exhibitions worldwide, showcasing his brilliant sense of imagery and insight. Avedon’s works have given photographers a new vision in portrait photography, making him one of the most influential photographers in the world. To delve deeper into his childhood, personal life, and achievements in photography and fashion, continue reading this biography.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Richard Avedon
  • Died At Age: 81
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Doe Avedon (m. 1944–1949), Evelyn Franklin (m. 1951–2004)
    • Father: Jacob Israel Avedon
    • Mother: Anna
    • Siblings: Louise
    • Children: John
  • Born Country: United States
  • Education: The New School, DeWitt Clinton High School, Columbia University
  • Awards:
    • 1989 – Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America
    • 1993 – The International Center of Photography Master of Photography Award
    • 1994 – Prix Nadar for his photobook Evidence
    • 2003 – National Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement
    • 2003 – The Royal Photographic Society 150th Anniversary Medal
    • 2010 – Record price of £719,000 for a unique seven-foot-high print of model Dovima
  • Diseases & Disabilities: Schizophrenia
  • Founder/Co-Founder: The Richard Avedon Foundation
  • Died on: October 1, 2004
  • Place of Death: San Antonio
  • City: New York City
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life

Richard Avedon was born in New York City to a retail businessman, Jacob Israel Avedon and Anna Avedon. It is believed that it was his mother who inculcated in him a love for art and fashion.

By the time he turned 12, his interest in photography grew by leaps and in order to pursue his interest, he became a member of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Camera Club. Soon, he began taking photographs using a Kodak Box Brownie. His first muse was his younger sister, Louise.

Academically, he attained his basic education from DeWitt Clinton High School in Bedford Park, Bronx. It was at high school that he developed a fancy for poetry and started penning some. In 1941, he was named, ‘Poet Laureate of New York City High Schools’.

He enrolled at the Columbia University in 1941. However, his growing passion for photography and fashion led him to drop out of the university after his first year.


In 1942, he began his career as a photographer with Merchant Marines. He was appointed to take photographs of crewmen for the purpose of identification.

In 1944, he was employed as an advertisement photographer for a department store. However, impressed by his work, Alexey Brodovitch, who was serving as the art director for the fashion magazine ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, recruited him.

From 1944 until 1950, he studied the technique and detail of photography from Brodovitch, at the latter’s Design Laboratory at the New School for Social Research.

In 1946, he founded his own studio and began to work with various magazines including ‘Vogue’ and ‘Life’. Soon he was appointed as the chief photographer for ‘Harper’s Bazaar’.

In 1952, he was appointed as the staff editor and chief photographer of the ‘Theatre Arts Magazine’. The following year he took a famous picture of Italian socialite, Marella Agnelli.

What made his work different from the rest was unlike others, he captured his models while in action, like laughing, smiling and even moving. Also, he mostly shot them at outdoor locations, a concept which was revolutionary at those times. However, at the beginning of the 60s decade, he switched to strobe lighting of the studio than outdoors.

In 1962, he worked as a staff photographer with ‘Vogue’ and he subsequently became the magazine’s lead photographer. As a lead photographer, he photographed most of the magazine’s cover pages.

Later on in the 1960s, he began to make studio portraits for cultural dissidents, politicians and other civil rights workers. He also took pictures Vietnam War protesters and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In the 1960’s he also created two sets of well-known portraits for the English rock band, ‘The Beatles’. One of the portraits consisted of psychedelic portraits of the band members.

In 1979, he worked on the ‘In The American West’, which was a project that focused on the lives of the working class people. It took him five years to complete this project.

In 1982, he created a set of creative and light-heartedly innovative films for the still advertisement campaigns for the fashion label, ‘Christian Dior’. The advertisement included a series of colourful photographs.

In 1992, at the age of 69 he was appointed as the first ever staff photographer with the ‘The New Yorker’.

In 1995, his project titled, ‘In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort’ was published. It was during this time that he came up with some of his most controversial photographs.

In 1999, he captured the cover photo for the Japanese-American singer Hikaru Utada’s ‘Addicted To You’

Major Works

His magnum opus project, ‘In The American West’ was a collection of photographs of the working class people. This project was a turning point in his career.

The famous ‘Versace’ campaign ‘Pile of Beautiful People’, photographed by him, brought him immense fame and recognition in the fashion world.

Awards & Achievements

In 1989, he was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award which was conferred to him by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

In 1993, he was awarded the Master of Photography Award from the International Center of Photography.

He was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.

In 2003, he was the recipient of the National Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement. Same year, he won The Royal Photographic Society’s Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship for his contribution in the field of photography.

He received honorary graduate degrees from various institutions including the Royal College of Art, Kenyon College, and Parsons School of Design.

Personal Life & Legacy

During his teenage years he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, for which he received psychiatric treatment.

In 1944, he married Dorcas Marie Nowel. The couple did not have any children and divorced in 1949.

In 1951, he married Evelyn Franklin, with whom he had a son.

In 1974, his work was greatly affected after he was diagnosed with heart inflammations. In October 2004, he died at the age of 81 in San Antonio, Texas due to brain haemorrhage.

In 2009, his collection of political portraits titled, ‘Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power’, were posthumously exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

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