Dick Avery: "Holy Moses! You look fabulous! Look, stop. Stop!"
Jo Stockton: "I can't stop. Take the picture."
Dick Avery: "Stop!"
Jo Stockton: "I don't want to stop. I like it. Take the picture. Take the picture!"
Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in the memorable scene from Stanley Donen's 1957 romantic comedy Funny Face. It is well known in the fashion industry that Astaire's Dick Avery was based on the iconic photographer Richard Avedon. May 15 would have been Mr. Avedon's 91st birthday. A prolific artist boasting an influential oeuvre of fashion, reportage and portrait style photography, Richard Avedon is an indelible figure in the historical landscape of photography. Happy Birthday, Mr. Avedon!
Richard Avedon was born in 1923 to Anna and Jacob Avedon in New York City. His family owned a successful clothing store called Avedon's Fifth Avenue. Avedon's familial introduction into the fashion world ignited an aesthetic passion for photography at an early age. When he was 12, he joined the YMHA Camera Club and snapped his first photographs with a Kodak Box Brownie. Avedon's first model was his younger sister, Louise. These early images were a youthful prelude to his future masterpieces.
In 1942, Avedon joined the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, photographing countless crewmen for ID cards. Avedon captured a myriad of faces in stark black and white against empty white backgrounds. These recurrent images, mere standards of procedure, remained fixed in the mind of the impressionable young photographer. Upon returning to New York City, Avedon studied photography under Alexey Brodovitch, the celebrated art director of Harper's Bazaar, who would later hire Avedon to work as a staff photographer. In 1947, Avedon travelled to Paris to cover the fall and spring collections. Creatively collaborating with legendary editor Carmel Snow, Avedon dramatically posed models throughout Paris -- revolutionizing the art of fashion photography.
Funny Face gloriously romanticizes Avedon's Parisian odyssey. In a delightful montage that pops in vibrant Technicolor, Dick Avery excitedly shouts directions to an eager Jo Stockton, whose dramatic poses and flowing gowns echo Avedon's real life models. For example, Renée, The New Look of Dior, Place de la Concorde, Paris, August 1947 features a model spinning round, the back of her head facing the camera. Her twirling dress and unorthodox pose echo a dynamic Whirling Dervish, unlike the stuffy studio images of conventional fashion models. Elise Daniels and Monique, Hats by Schiaparelli, Café Flore, Paris, August 1948 features two radiant models exchanging banter at a café. The spontaneity of the image suggests a sense of casual practicality absent from former studio photographs. Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, August 1955 shattered conventionality with the juxtaposition of lithe model Dovima against massive, roaring elephants. Dovima's lissome arms and legs mirror the elephants' curled trunks and arched legs, forming a visual link in this unconventional shot. Timeless images such as Nastassja Kinski's reptilian adornment, Veruschka's flights of fancy, and Carmen Dell'Orefice's magnificent 1957 Harper's Bazaar spread, Nightlights, will forever epitomize the art of fashion. From Diana Vreeland's Vogue to Tina Brown's The New Yorker, Avedon innovatively collaborated with the most esteemed editors in the fashion and magazine industries.
While Avedon's fashion photography is certainly his most celebrated and recognizable work, it is his portraiture that acutely reveals the psychological complexities of both the subject and the artist. With his notoriety secured, Avedon photographed countless actors, artists, dancers, novelists, poets and politicians. His minimalist, stark portraits evoke those of the early merchant marine ID cards. The simplicity and austerity of the images erased all distractions from the sole focus: the human face. Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957, unlike the ubiquitous images of Monroe as a glamorous bombshell, reveals a lost woman caught adrift in a cult of celebrity. Katherine Anne Porter, eyebrows raised, meets our gaze with unflinching curiosity. Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel dramatically arches her neck while pursing her lips. A proud, yet, forlorn Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy faces us attentively and assuredly. Chipper Tony Blair enthusiastically extends his hand. Avedon, through his photographic medium, preserves essential elements of his subjects. He explores the contours of the faces with the skill of a plastic surgeon and, carefully, almost mysteriously, captures profound emotional honesty with one click of the shutter. Thus, the portraits are as psychologically enlightening as they are aesthetically appealing.
Richard Avedon is an artist whose breadth of work is as rich as it is compelling. With an oeuvre spanning a lifetime, Avedon presented the world with an array of timeless fashion photographs, insightful portraits and influential reportage. His coverage of the Vietnam War, observations of life within psychiatric institutions, and exploration of rural, working class life titled In the American West (1985) attest to Avedon's profound concern for social justice and reform. His images encompass eternal beauties, as well as raw realities, which create a visual dialogue that will forever be left open to interpretation.
Avedon mused: "Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is... the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own."
Avedon's spin on the modern "Selfie." ...CLICK!
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