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Aspire to Inspire in 2008
How to emulate your way to greatness

Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 10, 1965.
The Richard Avedon Foundation.

Cyd Charisse, dress by Macrini, New York, June 1961.
The Richard Avedon Foundation.

Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, August 1955.
The Richard Avedon Foundation.

John Szarkowski, curator, New York, August 5, 1975
The Richard Avedon Foundation.

People say that imitation is the fondest form of flattery. It may be a cliché, but it's true. All the great novelists had someone who inspired them. They tried to emulate their icons and went on to find their own voices. It's the same with every art form.

This year, infuse new inspiration and creativity into your work-whether you're an industrial photographer or a wedding shooter-by taking a page from the greats. Going forward, simply marinate yourself in the works of those you aspire to be like. Go to exhibits, listen to talks/podcasts, attend lectures, read books. You get the point.

Let's kick off the year by looking some of the late-Richard Avedon's work. He served as inspiration to perhaps the most famous pop culture photographer of our time-Annie Leibovitz. At a book talk in 2006 she called her friend "a genius and a great communicator."

"As soon as you engage with someone, their faces change and he knew that," said Leibovitz who credits Avedon as a great influence on her body of work.

Avedon is credited with being one of the most powerful photographers of our time. In 1994, American Photo Magazine ranked him first on their "Photography's Top 100" list, and said, "in an era of superstar photographers, he is still the quintessential superstar." Avedon garnered immense respect throughout his career. He had a tremendous impact on the photography industry by continuously reinventing his style and artistic focus-never boring his fans, but more importantly, himself.

During the 1950s, for example, Avedon shifted his creative focus and turned his attention toward photographing evocative portraits of prominent individuals. His subjects included influential members of society, including artists, politicians, writers and intellectual figures. His images included such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney and were featured in publications like Rolling Stone and The New Yorker.

For his signature portraiture style, Avedon placed his subject in front of a spare white background, drawing a viewer's attention to the posture, expression, and gestures of the people he photographed.

In an age before Photoshop and digital retouching, Avedon's characteristically black and white prints were distinctive and beautiful. The late American shutterbug also captured polarized color creations and is perhaps best known to mainstream audiences as shooting some of the best band photos; like those of the Beatles for The White Album as well as artists such as Pablo Picasso, James Baldwin, Andy Warhol and Jimi Hendrix. He also snapped imprints of blue-collar Americans in his controversial epic In the American West.

In the early years of his career, Avedon distinguished himself as one of the industry's leading fashion photographers. As a contributor to prominent magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, Avedon photographed the era's leading models. He highlighted designers' haute couture fashions by shooting his models in glamorous, sophisticated settings - differentiating him from other photographers who used traditional in-studio shots.

A new exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum will feature some of the different styles of the iconic shooter. Entitled "Richard Avedon: Photographer of Influence" the show celebrates Avedon's storied seven-decade career by incorporating pieces that reflect the many phases of his work, and will be on display from January 12 - April 13, 2008.

"This exhibition showcases Avedon's evolution as an artist," Rebecca Senf, curator of photography for Phoenix Art Museum, said. "The public will be able to witness his greatness at capturing beauty in two different types of photography - that of fashion and of individual portraits."

For more inspiration attend a lecture below of those who knew Avedon and/or were influenced by him. Or research lectures in your area given by or about those you admire. Visit for more information on Avedon events.