Quoted: Richard Avedon

In Influences by David16 Comments


Richard Avedon, Self Portrait. 1923-2004

“I hate cameras. They interfere, they’re always in the way. I wish: if I could just work with my eyes alone. To get a satisfactory print, one that contains all that you intended, is very often more difficult and dangerous than the sitting itself. When I’m photographing, I immediately know when I’ve got the image I really want. But to get the image out of the camera and into the open, is another matter.”

“And if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible.”

“I believe that you’ve got to love your work so much that it is all you want to do. I believe you must betray your mistress for your work, you betray your wife for your work; I believe that she must betray you for her work. I believe that work is the one thing in the world that never betrays you, that lasts. If I were going to be a politician, if I were going to be a scientist, I would do it every day. I wouldn’t wait for Monday. I don’t believe in weekends. If you’re headed for a life that’s only involved with making money and that you hope for satisfaction somewhere else, you’re headed for a lot of trouble. And whatever replaces vodka when you’re 45 is what you’re going to be doing.”

I’m not sure Richard Avedon and I would see eye to eye on everything, but I love his passion and there is something in the spirit of what he did and the things he said about what he did that warrants learning from him. Take some time online at some point, or at your local library, looking at the work of Avedon. As far as portrait photographers go, he was his own man with his own voice. Remember, the point is not to find photographers you like or even agree with, but photographers from whom we can learn.

Reminds me of a line from an early Bruce Cockburn song, Maybe The Poet:

You and he may not agree/but you need him to show you new ways to see…


  1. Avedon is why I have confidence in pursuing my vision of photography. Between him and Snowden and more so than Adams, I saw what they did and I knew I was home.

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  3. That was inspiring. I agree about not necessarily seeing eye to eye, but wow, you can’t help but get fired up when you read that!

  4. If you are in the San Francisco bay area, the SFMOMA has a RICHARD AVEDON exhibit running until 29 November 2009. Last 2 weeks!!!

  5. I’m one of those silent lurkers here at Pixelated Image, but a Bruce Cockburn reference is always enough for me to emerge from the shadows.

    I love that bit from Avedon about not waiting for Monday—seems like a neat little measurement for passion.

    Thanks for bringing my attention to a photographer who is not all the rage right now. I need really need a history lesson in photography. I’m young(ish) and somewhat new to the photography scene. I could probably stand to look at the work of successful photographers who have come and gone. I get so excited about the work by yourself and your contemporaries, but forget that there were men and women making incredible images 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. As you said, there is plenty to learn from studying their work. I think I will start with Avedon right now. Thanks!

    “When you got a dream like mine…”

  6. Interesting perspective. I heard a writer say that we often have to betray our parents in order to pursue our passion. If forced, how many of us would choose pursuit of passion over relationship? It might be somewhat easier for some personality types than others, but still, …perhaps this is why few find and pursue their passion. …too lonely, costly, or painful?

    I read somewhere that our parents were outraged by tattoos, body piercings and the proliferation of computers. In turn we will be shocked that our children will allow their bodies to be hard-wired with computers. If this prediction is correct, and technology takes this path, perhaps Avedon’s greatest wish might be realized. It might be possible to work only with the eyes someday. (What, no gear? …then I guess it really would be all about Vision!) 🙂

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

  7. David,

    While I do agree that it’s important to find photographers that we can learn from, it’s hard to learn from people we don’t like and respect. I do learn when I read your blog and your books, and even though I don’t know you personally, I do like you because you are willing to share your experiences with others and you have chosen to use this craft to help the less fortunate by working with humanitarian organizations.

  8. I’ve always liked Avedon. People think he was just a portrait guy with a white background. This is why most portraits look like Sears Portrait Center or dead Barbie pictures. What makes someone like Avedon great is what they can drag out of a model with nothing more than a white background.

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