Richard Avedon: 1923-2004
Nastassja Kinski was 20 and at the peak of her career when she posed for Richard Avedon—but the photographer was bored. "We were in the studio with designer clothes and makeup and jewelry," Kinski, now 43, told PEOPLE in 1996. "But he suddenly said, 'This is not happening for me.' He made a few phone calls, and before you know it we had a snake in the studio." Kinski's sultry pose with a python wrapped around her nude form became a hot-selling poster in 1981. "He was probably the only person," she said, "who could have told me to take my clothes off and lie on the floor with a snake—and I'd do it."
Avedon—who died Oct. 1 of a brain hemorrhage at 81 while on assignment in Texas—inspired such awe that the world's most glamorous people would do almost anything for him, and not always because he made them look good. His portraits of figures from Dwight Eisenhower to Marilyn Monroe to Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair are sometimes shockingly stark. Among his most unnerving works were a 1972-73 series he did of his own dying father, Jacob, who ran a Manhattan clothing store. (His mother, Anna, was also acquainted with fashion, having come from a family that made dresses.) Says Tina Brown, the former editor of The New Yorker who hired him as staff photographer: "There was a kind of surgical candor to Dick."
And also a whimsy. Avedon, who was twice married (to model Dorcas Nowell and Evelyn Franklin), learned his craft taking ID photos in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. Later, he revolutionized fashion photography with his outlandish settings, most famously a circus with elephants for a 1955 Harper's Bazaar shoot. Subjects were often surprised by how quickly such a consummate pro worked. "I'd ask him, 'How do you make this look so easy?'" recalls model-actress Shari Belafonte, whom Avedon photographed for Vogue in the 1980s. "He'd say, 'It is easy if you love what you do.'"
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