If an artist’s intent is to bridge the profane and the profound, photographer Richard Avedon was one of the 20th century’s masters. From his glossy work in high fashion and advertising to his searingly personal portraits, Avedon, who died Oct. 1 in San Antonio of a cerebral hemorrhage at 81, celebrated both the allure of artifice and the beauty of the unadorned face.
Avedon, who was born in New York City, started out in the late 1940s shooting for fashion magazines. Capturing proto-supermodels from Dovima to Twiggy, Avedon himself was the inspiration for Fred Astaire’s debonair fashion photog in 1957’s Funny Face. He felt no need to choose between art for commerce and art for art’s sake. His black-and-white portraits, whether of a haunted Vietnam soldier (the photographer was active in the antiwar and civil rights movements) or a kicky Tina Turner, earned him retrospectives at countless museums. Through the decades, he had a profound knack for humanizing celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, the Stones, and Charlize Theron met the artist’s stark gaze.
The photographer died while on assignment for The New Yorker for an election-pegged project entitled ”Democracy.” ”I often feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to a doctor or a fortune-teller,” Avedon once said, ”to find out who they are.”