With Richard Avedon at the CFDA Awards in 1989
Probably the most famous single image from the film is the intentionally overexposed close-up of Hepburn's face in which only her facial features—her eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth—are visible. This image is seen briefly in black-and-white at the very beginning of the opening title sequence, during the "Funny Face" musical number which takes place in a darkroom, and when Dick (Astaire) presents it to Maggie (Thompson)
|Astaire's character was loosely based on the career
of Richard Avedon, who provided a number of the photographs seen in the film,
including the stills for the opening credits, which were also used in the halls
of Quality magazine.|
ALL ABOUT AUDREY
Pamela Fiori reflects on Hepburn as Richard Avedon's muse.
By Pamela Fiori in Harper’s Bazaar
In glorious motion, Audrey Hepburn races past Winged Victory and down the Louvre's magnificent Daru staircase in a strapless Givenchy gown, her silk wrap billowing behind her. Like a rare and delicate bird about to take flight, with her white-gloved arms stretched overhead, she shouts, "Take the picture! Take the picture!" Freeze frame, et voilà! This iconic fashion-muse-meets-movie moment is captured in Funny Face, the 1957 musical based loosely on photographer Richard Avedon's early career. For 20 years, Avedon was the principal fashion photographer for Harper's Bazaar under its wildly eccentric fashion editor, Diana Vreeland. In the film, the magazine is Quality, a thinly veiled Bazaar; the photographer's name is Dick Avery; and the young model who inspires him is played by Hepburn, who was Avedon's real-life muse. Art imitates life. Funny Face was released when Avedon, arguably the greatest fashion photographer of his generation, was approaching the pinnacle of his career. Professionally, he cultivated several women, including Suzy Parker, her sister Dorian Leigh, and Dovima, but it was Hepburn who most inspired him. Waif-thin, she stood five feet seven inches tall and was blessed with high cheekbones and doelike eyes. Add to this a lilting voice with an aristocratic accent, a radiant smile, and a sense of style second to none, and she was impossible to resist. It has been 20 years now since the actress's death, in January 1993, at her home in Switzerland, but the handful of covers and stories she worked on with Vreeland and Avedon remain among the most charming in the magazine's history. Hepburn's association with the photographer was similar to the one she shared with Hubert de Givenchy, according to Robert Wolders, Hepburn's companion in the last years of her life. "Audrey trusted Dick completely," he says. "And once she trusted someone, she'd do anything. She often said that working with him was like having a conversation with a good friend." For Avedon's first Hepburn cover for Bazaar, in April 1956 (a year before Funny Face was released), she is peeking from beneath a floral-print scarf and a straw hat, as fresh as a flower. A few months later, they teamed up again for the cover, this time with Hepburn in dramatic red lips and zebra stripes. Inside, the actress (who was then starring in War and Peace alongside her husband, Mel Ferrer) was a vision in feathers, so many of them that all you could see were her wide eyes and beaming smile.
Other collaborations followed, but the ultimate Avedon—Hepburn partnership for Bazaar appeared in the September 1959 issue. The 20-page portfolio that Avedon "directed" was more like a scripted film than a fashion story. Shot primarily in Paris, it starred Hepburn, Ferrer, Buster Keaton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and a white cat named Simone. The opener was all type; the title, "Paris Pursuit." Outfits came from 13 French houses, including Chanel, Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Jean Patou, Madame Grès, and Nina Ricci. (Oddly, nothing was from Givenchy.) Starting at the Gare du Nord, the plot moved to the Ritz, the streets of Paris, Maxim's restaurant, and the Eiffel Tower before ending high in the Italian Alps.
The last Harper's Bazaar story with Hepburn came 22 years later, in September 1981, photographed not by Avedon but by Jacques Malignon. Elizabeth Taylor graced the cover, and Hepburn was one of 11 women over 40 (and "Sensational!" a headline proclaimed). She wore Givenchy and, while more mature, was no less beautiful or glowing.
Hepburn's son Sean Hepburn Ferrer says that growing up in the Swiss village of Tolochenaz in the '60s, he had no idea of his mother's fame. She stopped making films for a period, and except for catching the occasional glimpse of her in a movie on their small black-and-white two-channel television, Sean says, he never saw his mother as the actress Audrey Hepburn. "It wasn't until I was 14," he says, "that I finally saw her films. We found an old 16-millimeter projector in the attic, put up a bedsheet—I ironed it myself—and watched reels that were given to her by Paramount. In those days, stars weren't given fancy DVD players and DVDs after a film wrapped; they got a 16-millimeter copy. But it was fantastic to see those movies with the wonderful sound of the old projector in the background. That was when I first saw Funny Face. I remember being mesmerized by Love in the Afternoon, with Gary Cooper. As a big Ernst Lubitsch fan, I felt that particular movie [directed by Billy Wilder] was the most 'Lubitschian' to me in its urbanity. I also was deeply touched by The Nun's Story because it was the first time I saw my mother in something other than a romantic comedy."
Hepburn's younger son, Luca Dotti, was born in 1970 during the actress's marriage to the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti. Like Sean, Luca never regarded her as a movie star: "Until her last day and for all her life at home with us, she was never 'Audrey Hepburn,' just 'Mama.' For most people, their mother is just their mother, and questions never arise. For us, it was just like that. Only later did we find out about all the love and admiration her life and career had been able to inspire."
When the Dottis lived in Rome, the family kept pretty much to themselves. If Hepburn took the boys for a stroll, they were often hounded by paparazzi. Sometimes it was too much. "In a way she was relieved that Hollywood was part of her past," says Luca, whose book about his mother, Audrey in Rome, will be published in the spring. (It contains almost 200 photographs, many never previously published, of the actress both on and off film sets in the city.) "Being a full-time mother was the career I knew her for. Having a family was the center of her real 'success' after the frenzy of her career."
Hepburn may have looked as if she never ate a morsel, but the reality was quite the opposite. "Food was always important, as it was the reason to sit together and listen to our stories," Luca recalls. "She just loved that--to listen, as if her own life wasn't such a big deal. Cooking and sharing recipes with friends were part of the victory of being able to lead a private life."
And though the actress was born in Brussels and raised in the Netherlands, her appetite was distinctly Italian. "Mum had three favorite dishes: pasta, pasta, and pasta," he says. "She couldn't have enough of a simple spaghetti al pomodoro, so much so that friends were always amazed at just how much she could eat. At restaurants she often begged for her favorite dish, as if she were asking a great favor. And she sometimes traveled with what she called her 'lifesaving kit': a few boxes of spaghetti, olive oil, and Parmesan. We used to grow our own tomatoes in Switzerland, and before the season was over, she deep-froze them whole. Our cook still recalls how much the combination of tomato and basil reminded her of the smell of summer and made her, and all of us, very happy."
In the late 1970s, Italy was terrorized by the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades), a radical group notorious for assassinations and kidnappings of prominent people and their children. After the group's failed attempt to seize Sean and Luca, Hepburn dispatched Sean to the safety of a Swiss boarding school while she and Luca remained in Rome with Dotti. During this time the couple's marriage became increasingly strained, and in 1980 they formally separated.
Early that year, Hepburn made a trip to Beverly Hills to see her closest friend, Connie Wald, the widow of the movie producer Jerry Wald. It was there that she became acquainted with Robert Wolders, a Dutch-born actor. His wife, the actress Merle Oberon, had died a couple of months before, and he was in no mood to see anyone, much less meet someone new. "I was in an unhappy period and was content to do nothing more than walk on the beach," he says. Connie called and asked him to come over for dinner, saying it would be "just family." "I assumed that meant Connie and her two sons," Wolders recalls. "I didn't realize she'd invited William Wyler and Billy Wilder [both of whom directed Hepburn in movies] and, to my surprise, Audrey.
"We'd met a few times before on social occasions but never to talk," he says. "Knowing I came from Holland, she spoke to me in Dutch—the most palatable Dutch I'd ever heard. We made a connection that night, but I thought it was just that. And I certainly didn't realize she was in an unhappy marriage."
That spring, Wolders was headed to New York for an auction of Oberon's jewelry at Christie's. Wald told him that Hepburn, who was shooting the Peter Bogdanovich film They All Laughed, would be there too, staying at the Pierre, and urged him to call. "I didn't," he admits, "because I thought it would be intrusive." However, the day before he was to return to California, Wald telephoned and insisted that he contact Hepburn. "When I did, she answered the phone and said, 'Hello, Robbie.' That touched me very deeply because the only people who called me Robbie were my family. I asked her if she'd like to have a drink, although I had promised friends I'd meet them at a party. She suggested the café at the Pierre. Three hours later, we were still there. Obviously I missed the party.
"She asked if I'd mind if she had a small bite to eat, whereupon she ordered a huge plate of pasta," Wolders continues. "Maybe I kissed her on the cheek at the end of the evening, I don't even remember." He called her three days later, and for the next four months they spoke almost daily. The pair then began traveling back and forth between Europe and the States to see each other. "Finally, in 1985, I moved to Switzerland to be with her."
Although Hepburn and Dotti divorced in 1982, she and Wolders never married; they didn't feel as if they had to. With Wolders she spent some of the most contented days of her life, peacefully tending to her garden in Switzerland. She might have stayed there had she not found yet another calling. In 1988, she applied to become an International Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. As she explained in her application, she had never forgotten the deprivations of wartime that she and her family had suffered in Holland after the German invasion and she remembered clearly the relief provided by the Red Cross and UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, a forerunner of UNICEF). It was a position that suited her maternal instincts perfectly. "This is for me an immense privilege and an answer to my longing to help children in whatever small way I can," she wrote.
Over the next four years, Hepburn, accompanied by Wolders, traveled to remote corners of Asia, Central and South America, and Africa, meeting victims of famine, disease, and war. For these trips she wore a uniform of jeans and Lacoste shirts, no makeup and her hair pulled back. "Her career can be split into two chapters," her friend Leslie Caron wrote in 1993. "In the first part she received all the glory she could hope for, and in the second part she gave back, in spades, what she had received."
Before her death from colon cancer in 1993, Hepburn had taken on very few films and shied away from Hollywood events. But in January 1989, she appeared in New York to present her dear friend Richard Avedon with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. "For Richard," she told the audience, "I've happily swung through swings, stood in clouds of steam, been drenched with rain, and descended endless flights of stairs without looking and without breaking my neck.... Only with Richard have I been able to shed my innate self-consciousness in front of the camera. Is it his sweetness? Is it his sense of fun? The assurance that you know you're going to end up looking the way you wished you looked?"
Avedon later paid the compliment in return. "I am, and forever will be, devastated by the gift of Audrey Hepburn before my camera.... I cannot lift her to greater heights. She is already there. I can only record, I cannot interpret her. There is no going further than who she was....She has achieved in herself her ultimate portrait."
A Pygmalion story set in the rarefied world of high fashion, Funny Face (1957) is an irresistible combination of music, style, and star talents: top production staff from MGM's fabled Freed unit; legendary dancer Fred Astaire; enchanting gamine Audrey Hepburn; and photographer Richard Avedon. Astaire plays fashion photographer Dick Avery, who turns a scruffy Greenwich Village intellectual (played by Hepburn) into a supermodel, takes her to romantic Paris, and falls in love with her.
The source for the story was an unproduced musical play called Wedding Day by Leonard Gershe, loosely based on incidents in his friend Avedon's life. Freed unit producer Roger Edens bought it for MGM with Astaire and Hepburn in mind. But at that time, Hepburn was Paramount's most valuable star, and Paramount was not about to loan her to MGM. Astaire, who was by then freelancing, also owed Paramount a film. With uncommon generosity, producer Arthur Freed not only allowed Edens to take Funny Face to Paramount, but also to take some key Freed unit talent with him: Director Stanley Donen, musical director Adolph Deutsch, arranger Conrad Salinger, choreographer Eugene Loring, and cinematographer Ray June. Edens bought the rights to the Gershwin score for the 1927 stage musical, Funny Face, from Warner Bros., although the plot of that show had nothing to do with Gershe's story. (Astaire and his sister Adele had starred in Funny Face on Broadway.) Edens added another Gershwin song, "Clap Yo' Hands," plus three new ones that he co-wrote with Gershe.
Hepburn, who had idolized Astaire since she was a child, was thrilled to be working with him, but very nervous. Although she'd had dance training, she was by no means on Astaire's level, nor was she a trained singer. But at their first meeting, he soon put her at ease. "Fred literally swept me off my feet," she later recalled. Putting an arm around her waist, he twirled her around, and his ease dissolved her nervousness. The perfectionist Astaire practiced with Hepburn for many hours, but made it so enjoyable that Hepburn didn't mind.
Kay Thompson, a nightclub performer, composer and arranger, was a Freed unit vocal coach for Judy Garland and others, as well as a close pal of Edens. Both he and Gershe knew Thompson was the only person who could play the flamboyant magazine editor, which she did, brilliantly. Funny Face was one of only a handful of films in which Thompson appeared, and the only one in which she played a significant role. The character is said to have been based on both Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow.
Richard Avedon, whose innovative photographs of haute couture had inspired Gershe's story, was hired as "special visual consultant" for Funny Face. He worked with director Stanley Donen to create one of the film's centerpieces, a five-minute montage of Hepburn posing all over Paris for a fashion layout, as well as the witty fashion sequence in the "Think Pink" number, which featured two of his favorite models, blonde Sunny Hartnett, and redhead Suzy Parker. (The latter would soon begin her own career as an actress.) Avedon also designed the opening titles, based on some of his most famous photographs, and the darkroom sequence.
Another Avedon favorite, Dovima, appeared in Funny Face as the whiny-voiced model Marion, who poses and preens in Hepburn's bookstore. The character was given one of Dovima's own traits: a fondness for comic books. In spite of her exotic looks and name, Dovima was actually born in Queens. Her name was a combination of her given names, Dorothy, Virginia, and Margaret.
Donen's visual inventiveness was a good match for Avedon's. As he had done with New York in On the Town (1949), Donen took one Funny Face number, "Bonjour Paree", into the streets of Paris in an exhilarating travelogue that splits the wide screen into three parts and culminates at the Eiffel Tower. But filming in Paris wasn't all glamour. The crew had to contend with unpredictable weather during much of the outdoor shooting. In some of those scenes, the drizzly weather gave the film a very effective Impressionist effect. But by the time they shot the bridal gown number "He Loves and She Loves" at the country chapel in Chantilly, it had been raining for so long that the ground on which Astaire and Hepburn had to dance was a swamp. Dancing was difficult. Hepburn's expensive white satin shoes kept sinking in the mud, and getting ruined. The delays were making everyone tense, until Hepburn joked, "Here I've been waiting twenty years to dance with Fred Astaire, and what do I get? Mud!"
Hepburn had met French designer Hubert de Givenchy when he designed her Parisian wardrobe for Sabrina (1954). Unfortunately, Edith Head received sole screen credit, and when that film won an Academy Award for costume design, the Oscar® went to Head alone. For Funny Face, Givenchy did all of Hepburn's Paris costumes, and she made sure he received equal billing (and an Oscar® nomination) with Head. The film also earned nominations for original screenplay, cinematography, and art direction, but did not win in any category.
With a few exceptions, the reviews for Funny Face were very good, and the film did well in the big cities. However, it may have been too sophisticated for mass audiences, and did not make back its four million dollar cost. Today, in an era of celebrity-fashion worship, Funny Face looks better than ever, and remains one of the treasures of the American film musical.
Director: Stanley Donen
Producer: Roger Edens
Screenplay: Leonard Gershe, based on his unproduced musical libretto, Wedding Day
Cinematography: Ray June
Editor: Frank Bracht
Costume Design: Edith Head, Hubert de Givenchy
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Hal Pereira; Set Designers, Sam Comer, Ray Moyer
Music: George and Ira Gershwin, Roger Edens, Leonard Gershe
Principal Cast: Audrey Hepburn (Jo Stockton), Fred Astaire (Dick Avery), Kay Thompson (Maggie Prescott), Michel Auclair (Prof. Emile Flostre), Robert Flemyng (Paul Duval), Dovima (Marion), Virginia Gibson (Babs).
C-104m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri / http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/102790%7C0/Funny-Face.html
October 1, 2004
Richard Avedon, the Eye of Fashion, Dies at 81
By ANDY GRUNDBERG / in The New York Times / http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/01/arts/01CND-AVED.html?ei=5090&en=175acfd39f2d6c9b&ex=1254369600&partner=rssuserland&pagewanted=print&position=&_r=0
Richard Avedon, whose fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century, died yesterday in a hospital in San Antonio. He was 81 and lived in Manhattan.
The cause was complications of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered last Saturday, said his son, John. Mr. Avedon was in Texas on assignment for The New Yorker magazine, which hired him in 1992 as its first staff photographer. He had been working on a portfolio called "Democracy,'' an election-year project that included coverage of the presidential nominating conventions.
Mr. Avedon's photographs captured the freedom, excitement and energy of fashion as it entered an era of transformation and popularization. No matter what the prevailing style, his camera eye always found a way to dramatize its spirit as the fashion world's creative attention swayed variously from the "New Look" of liberated Paris to pragmatic American sportswear designed in New York, and from the anti-establishment fashion of London's Carnaby Street to sophisticated, tailored dresses and suits from Milan.
Picking up the trail of such photographic forerunners as Martin Munkacsi, Mr. Avedon revolutionized the 20th-century art of fashion photography, imbuing it with touches of both gritty realism and outrageous fantasy and instilling it with a relentlessly experimental drive. So great a hold did Mr. Avedon's fashion photography come to have on the public imagination that when he was in his 30's he was the inspiration for Dick Avery, the fashion photographer played by Fred Astaire in the 1957 film "Funny Face." In 1978 he appeared on the cover of Newsweek while a retrospective exhibition of his work was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Despite the widespread recognition of his work, Mr. Avedon remained relatively insulated from the world, spending much of his working life in the white confines of his studio, where he could maintain control of his lighting and, in most cases, of his models and portrait subjects as well. Although he traveled widely on assignment, he was a born and bred New Yorker and made Manhattan his home for his entire life.
While best known for his published pictures in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, Mr. Avedon had what amounted to a second, simultaneous career in the art world. His photographs were shown at the Smithsonian Institution in 1962 and in the spring of
in a retrospective exhibition organized by the Whitney
Museum of American Art. He also maintained a lucrative sideline creating
advertising photographs for clients like Revlon and Christian Dior.
Thin and wiry, with a shock of unkempt hair, Richard Avedon had a terrierlike intensity that could exhaust those who worked with him. Although for most of his life he maintained an overstuffed schedule in his East Side photography studio, he found time to read, attend the theater and visit museum shows, staying conversant with cultural and artistic life. In addition, he supported civil rights and other social causes financially and with his photography; in the 1960's, he trained young black photographers to record marches and sit-ins in the South.
A Broadening Opportunity
When Mr. Avedon joined the staff of The New Yorker, which had previously used only small photographs, and those sparingly, U.S.A. Today suggested that calling Mr. Avedon a staff photographer was like calling Michelangelo the local house painter. But the staff photographer himself saw the new position as an opportunity to progress beyond fashion.
"I've photographed just about everyone in the world," Mr. Avedon said. "But what I hope to do is photograph people of accomplishment, not celebrity, and help define the difference once again."
Tina Brown, the editor who hired Mr. Avedon, promised at the time that he could "do anything he wants." The master more than proved that the confidence was merited.
His New Yorker pictures, ranging from the first publication, in 1994, of previously unpublished photos of Marilyn Monroe to a resonant rendering of Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair this year, were topics of wide discussion. Perhaps even more so was his disregard for orthodox sensibilities, as reflected by the uproar surrounding some of his nude photographs, including the actresses Tilda Swinton in 1993 and Charlize Theron this year.
Some of his less controversial but nonetheless deeply insightful New Yorker portraits include those of Saul Bellow, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott, John Kerry and Stephen Sondheim. His fashion photos at The New Yorker showed, if possible, even more edge, especially his pictorial essay in the November 1995 fashion issue. It featured a human skeleton carrying on with elegant models.
His own archives also yielded visual treasures for the magazine, including portraits of Audrey Hepburn, W. H. Auden and Rudolf Nureyev's foot.
Unlike his upbeat and glamorous fashion photography, Mr. Avedon's portraiture chronicled a growing sense of disillusionment about the possibilities of American life and culture, especially after his optimistic years in the 50's and early 60's. From the start, his portraits seemed intent on peeling away the bright sheen of celebrity to reveal the ordinary, often insecure human being underneath, but in the 1970's they became focused on the trials of aging and death.
In 1969 he photographed the antiwar movement, including the Chicago Seven during their raucous conspiracy trial. In 1976, America's bicentennial year, working with the writer Renata Adler, he photographed 73 men and women in power for Rolling Stone magazine. Between 1978 and 1984 he produced a major body of portraits of people he believed were representative of the current spirit of the American West; his unhappy cast of ex-convicts, drifters, drinkers and others with hard-luck stories led some observers to complain that he had become cynical and misanthropic.
A Record in Print
Mr. Avedon's mostly black-and-white photography was featured in a number of books and exhibition catalogues during his lifetime, including "Observations" (1959), with a text by Truman Capote; "Nothing Personal" (1964), with text by James Baldwin; and "Portraits" (1976), with an essay by the art critic Harold Rosenberg. His portraits from the West were published in the 1985 book "In the American West," in conjunction with a traveling exhibition organized by the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.
A notorious stickler for precision in his photographic technique, Mr. Avedon long sought to control the organization and layout of his books and exhibitions, believing that the meaning of his images was in large part determined by their contexts, whether on the wall or in reproduction.
This was certainly apparent on the magazine page, where his pictures were characteristically distinctive and elegant. Although as a staff photographer at Harper's Bazaar (1946-1965) and later at Vogue (1966-1970) he was somewhat at the mercy of the magazine's fashion editors and art director, his photographs in reproduction virtually jump off the page with a signature brand of visual impact. He sought the same kind of stimulation in his exhibitions, creating prints that depicted their subjects larger than life-size, towering over the viewer.
Richard Avedon was born in New York City on May 15, 1923. His father, Jacob Israel, a second-generation Russian-Jewish immigrant, was the proprietor of Avedon's Fifth Avenue, a Manhattan clothing store. His mother, Anna Avedon, came from a family that owned a dress manufacturing business. As a boy, Mr. Avedon avidly read fashion magazines and decorated the walls of his room with tear sheets of the fashion photographs he admired.
"One evening my father and I were walking down Fifth Avenue looking at the store windows," he once told Newsweek. "In front of the Plaza Hotel, I saw a bald man with a camera posing a very beautiful woman against a tree. He lifted his head, adjusted her dress a little bit and took some photographs. Later, I saw the picture in Harper's Bazaar. I didn't understand why he'd taken her against that tree until I got to Paris a few years later: the tree in front of the Plaza had that same peeling bark you see all over the Champs-Elysees.''
Mr. Avedon attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he and James Baldwin were co-editors of The Magpie, the school's literary magazine. After a year at Columbia University he joined the Merchant Marine, which assigned him to the photo section, where he learned photography, taking thousands of identification portraits of sailors.
On leaving the Merchant Marine in 1944 he sought out Alexey Brodovitch, an influential designer and the art director of Harper's Bazaar, and enrolled in his class at the New School for Social Research. In what was officially called the Design Laboratory, Mr. Brodovitch offered criticism and encouragement to photographers, graphic designers and illustrators, and on occasion provided them with paying assignments for the magazine.
Mr. Brodovitch and the 21-year-old Avedon formed an immediate and close bond; in 1945 Mr. Avedon's photographs began appearing in Junior Bazaar and, a year later, in Bazaar itself. After being placed on the magazine's payroll, he opened his own studio, which Mr. Brodovitch used as the off-campus home of his laboratory classes into the 1950's. Mr. Brodovitch gave Mr. Avedon many plum assignments, including the privilege of covering the Paris spring and fall collections, much to the annoyance of the veteran staff photographers.
Shooting Fashion Off the Runway
While Carmel Snow, the legendary editor of Harper's Bazaar, covered the runway shows in Paris, Mr. Avedon had the more daunting task of arranging to photograph the new designer dresses as luxurious but wearable objects of desire. In 1954 he took his models to stereotypical French cafes, nighclubs and casinos, surrounding them with dinner-suited escorts. The following year he made fashion history by setting the couture-gowned models in the midst of a circus. The most memorable of those images, "Dovima With Elephants," shows the most famous model of her day in an ankle-length Dior gown, standing in straw and holding the trunk of an elephant with one hand while gesturing toward another.
Mr. Avedon was encouraged by Mr. Brodovitch to break the boundaries of conventional fashion photography, mixing reality and fantasy with surrealist effect, and he soon learned to visualize his pictures in strictly graphic terms. At first he specialized in on-location scenes that included swirls and blurs of motion, in the manner of Munkacsi 10 years earlier. His later adoption of a seamless white studio background for most of his fashion and portrait photography was at least partly inspired by Mr. Brodovitch's characteristic use of "white space," a means of making the subject seem suspended and weightless on the page.
Although Mr. Avedon made several attempts at photographing in the traditional documentary mode, including a number of street scenes taken on trips to Italy in 1946 and 1947 and a grainy series of images of patients at a Louisiana mental hospital in 1963, his significant contribution to photography's documentary mode rests with his studio portrait style. In the studio he could isolate his subjects not only graphically but also psychologically, producing a convincing illusion of a direct confrontation between the person in the picture and the viewer.
Mr. Avedon's deceptively simple portrait style was capable of a wide emotional range. He used it to glamorize some of the most beautiful women of the 20th century, including the models Dorian Leigh, her sister, Suzy Parker, and Jean Shrimpton; the actress Anna Magnani; and a young Jacqueline Kennedy on the eve of her husband's inauguration as president..
But his portraits of such cultural figures as Ezra Pound, Charles Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Allen Ginsberg could be both sympathetic and moving. Clearly siding with the romantic posture of the alienated artist, Mr. Avedon could penetrate the carefully constructed image of someone like Monroe and present her as an apparently anguished individual caught up in a role that, like a dress a size too large, never quite fit.
In the mid-60's, after Carmel Snow and Alexey Brodovitch had stopped working and at the height of a fashion revolution that featured the miniskirt and a new generation of youthful designers, Mr. Avedon left Harper's Bazaar for its competitor, Vogue. There he worked with Alexander Liberman, another remarkable Russian émigré art director. Although he was on Vogue's staff only until the end of the 60's, he continued his association with the magazine, and with Mr. Liberman, for more than 20 years.
In 1962 Eugene Ostroff, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution, offered Mr. Avedon his first museum exhibition. He seized the offer as a chance to experiment with presenting his pictures outside the pages of a book or magazine, insisting on an installation in which his prints overlapped and filled every inch of space on the walls.
By the 1970's Mr. Avedon was becoming increasingly conscious of the recognition of photography in the art world, and of his own place in the artistic traditions of the medium. He served as the editor of the book "Diary of a Century: Photographs by Jacques-Henri Lartigue" (1970), helping to bring greater acclaim to a photographer who has since been recognized as one of the most original camera artists of the last century. In 1974 his searing portrait series of his terminally ill father was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in
1975 a large exhibition of his portraits was
presented at the Marlborough Gallery. The two shows catapulted his work into
the center of the growing discussion about photography's power as a
contemporary art form.
Two years later a retrospective exhibition of his fashion and portrait photography, "Richard Avedon: Photographs 1947-1977," was organized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and subsequently traveled to museums in Dallas, Atlanta and Tokyo. In 1980 another retrospective was organized by the University Art Museum in Berkeley. Both exhibitions featured larger-than-life, finely detailed black-and-white prints with the black edges of the negatives included as part of the picture.
Mr. Avedon was capable of being profound and succinct in both pictures and words. His definition of a portrait is a model of concision: "A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he's being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he's wearing or how he looks."
In 1982 Mr. Avedon produced a playfully inventive series of advertisements for Christian Dior, based on the idea of film stills. Featuring a stock cast of models and actors, the color photographs purported to show scenes from the life of a fictional "Dior family," whose members managed to wear elegant fashions even when wrestling on a couch.
While continuing to maintain a hectic pace of picture-taking at an age when many would have sought retirement, Mr. Avedon also spent his last years reflecting on his considerable archive of photographs and attempting to organize the pictures in a way that would summarize his own life. His long-awaited "Autobiography," published in 1993, turned out to be not the expected verbal explanation of his career, but a visual narrative that mixed old and new pictures, fashion and portraiture, family snapshots and reportage. It included pictures of his father, mother and stepmother; his sister, Louise; his first wife, Dorcas Norwell, a former model from whom he was divorced; his second wife, Evelyn, from whom he was also divorced; their son, John, and his children.
In addition to his son, he is survived by four grandchildren.
Mr. Avedon's photographs are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Art Museum, the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institution, the Amon Carter Museum of Art and many other museums in the United States and abroad.
"A portrait is not a likeness," Richard Avedon said at the time of "In the American West. "The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."