In between shooting Hollywood’s A-list and the musicians of Greenwich Village, Richard Avedon was making portraits of characters from all walks of life, from the homeless to Lebron James and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Avedon’s innocence and enthusiasm captured the people he photographed, even in the sometimes shabby environs in which they lived.
“He was really meant to be a street photographer,” said Peter Beard, who shot for Avedon for about a decade, “because he was really interested in the texture of the things he saw. He knew exactly what to do. He knew what he wanted to see. He knew what that shot was, and he loved the texture of it.”
Avedon, who died on Tuesday at age 88, was a photographer and filmmaker before he became known for creating some of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. He was born in April 1921 in Philadelphia. He went to Paris in 1945 and made the move more permanent when he returned in the mid-50s to become director of education at the International Center of Photography in New York. The latter job brought him together with a group of photographers, including Richard Avedon, who helped launch his career. He went on to produce documentaries and TV shows and also became a photo book cover artist for Random House.
Photo: Juan Rico/AP Richard Avedon, left, and Helmut Newton, at the opening of Avedon’s “Highlights of the International Center of Photography” in 1947.
“He was like a bird that had this overlong wingspan but was flying through a pine tree,” Beard said of Avedon. “And so he was able to really just miss trees and buildings, or do a shot in an entry-level apartment and by the time he went out to get a cigarette at 4 a.m., the village was going insane because it was after hours. But he was so talented at capturing.”
Photo: Lydia Deutsch/Getty Images Richard Avedon, left, at the “Stereoscopic” exhibit, in New York City on March 4, 1968.
His favorite technique, Beard said, was the wide-angle lens he liked to use, which allowed him to get into the lives of people not well-known to the public. This technique, he said, “didn’t affect his image, you know, it just affected how he understood a scene and so he’d begin and then just move into the frame in the corner.”
Photo: Dennis Sammut/AFP/Getty Images Richard Avedon, left, arrives for the opening of his retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1994.
Avedon liked to embrace the look of the place he was shooting and often shoot without the aid of a film camera. The eye of one who first viewed the scene from a single vantage point is a powerful way to create an entire image, and Avedon often used this technique for his photos, sometimes in close up, but most of the time far away from the subjects. These intimate images often featured people.
“He would make these pictures where you’d think, ‘It looks like a movie’ or ‘It looks like an interior photo,’” Beard said. “People were so enamored of him because he was so accessible.”
Photo: Iliotis /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Richard Avedon, left, and Lee Radziwill, in 2010.
Avedon liked to photograph other people, especially, in his later years, were his subjects of choice. The portraits show smiling people enjoying their lives, laughing. His final major body of work was a series of photographs he made of people celebrating their birthdays and their talent. In that series, The Birthday Show, some of the subjects were his students. Beard recalled a year when he was teaching and Avedon did a photo of one of his students from the class, shortly after they had graduated. “He grabbed this gorgeous shot of this beautiful tall, slender, modern looking woman. And you see her from head to toe. His next shot of her was her make-up.”