American fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon was known for breaking the photography boundaries in the fashion and political world. Ranging from work found in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and, later, The New Yorker, Avedon was able to capture the rare emotion and a unique essence of his subjects that many other photographers failed to do. (Although many have imitated him, and there is even a YouTube video on “How to Photograph like Richard Avedon” with over 25000 hits!)
An obituary published in The New York Times, after he passed away in 2004 said that “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century”.
Indeed they did. Yet many more people, knowingly or not, would have seen Avedon’s advertising work before his personal or editorial photography. He was extremely sought-after and influential in the advertising industry from the 1940s to the beginning of the 21st century, creating thousands of advertisements for approximately six hundred different clients, many of whom he worked with for years. His work exemplified Madison Avenue at the height of its influence in world culture. Working with a talented cadre of models, copywriters, and art directors, Avedon made images that enticed consumers to embrace the new, especially in the areas of fashion and beauty, with campaigns for Revlon, Chanel, Calvin Klein, Dior, and Versace, among many others.
In 1965, Avedon was quoted as saying: “I think that my creative work in advertising is the hardest, most honest work I do. There are no illusions. The adverts are records of the world we live in, and it’s possible the record of my ads over the past 20 years could be a more valuable social document than a record of what I think of as my finest fashion photographs.”
Despite this Richard Avedon was notoriously touchy about his advertising work. (He often didn’t permit his name to be used in connection with it.) He rarely spoke of it and was sensitive to accusations that he was merely a commercial photographer. He wanted to be talked of purely as an artist.
Perhaps this is the reason his advertising work has been one of the mysteries of his archive. Now for the first time that mystery is unraveled in a small way in the form of a new book. Avedon Advertising reproduces more than 300 ads that range from the buoyant 1940s and 1950s, when post-war prosperity opened up new experiences to consumers; through the explosive ’60s; and into the era defined by celebrity culture and global brand awareness.
Texts for the book are written by his daughter-in-law Laura Avedon and Rebecca Arnold (Senior lecturer in history of dress and textiles at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London) and help to give viewers a glimpse into both a behinds the scenes looks at Avedon’s process as well as his indelible impact on the history of advertising.
Edited by Laura Avedon and James Martin; Essay by Rebecca Arnold, and introductory texts by Laura Avedon