Avedon began to explore photography on his own at age 10 and was immediately drawn to portraiture. Avedon studied photography in the U.S. merchant marine (1942–44), where he took identification card pictures, and at the New School for Social Research. He turned professional in 1945 and became a regular contributor to Harper's Bazaar (1946–65) and Vogue (1966–90), in addition to working on many advertising campaigns. In 1992 he became the first staff photographer at The New Yorker .
Avedon's fashion photographs are characterized by a strong black-and-white contrast that creates an effect of austere sophistication. In his portraits of celebrities and other sitters, he created a sense of drama by often using a stark, white background and eliciting a frontal, confrontational pose.
Avedon’s pictures continue to bring us a closer, more intimate view of the great and the famous. the portraits are often well lit and in front of white backdrops, with no props or extraneous details to distract from their person - from the essential specificity of face, gaze, dress, and gesture. when printed, the images regularly contain the dark outline of the film in which the image was framed.
Avedon's photographs confront us with miners, unemployed people, drifters, farmers, cowboys, and convicts, often at life-size or over. Most of those photographed try to give as little of themselves away as possible.
They appear to show no feelings beyond skepticism and reserve. In the bar, or at the rodeo, or wherever Avedon has found them they may have been emotionally involved, cheerful, uninhibited, stressed or sad: but in front of his camera, they appear totally inward.
He began to take the type of reality photographs that most photographers [especially fashion photographers] of that time would never have taken. It an was anti-fashion movement. "Avedon showed every wrinkle and bump in fine detail, an d many of his sitters did not look at all happy". Many of his earlier subjects were celebrities but this did not stop him. He proved as "truthful" with them as with any.
in 1989 received an honorary doctorate from the royal college of art in London and in 1992 he became the first staff photographer for the new Yorker. ‘the world’s most famous photographer’ trumpeted a 2002 story on Avedon in the New York times. it was a title he wore for decades. back in 1958, he was named one of the world’s 10 finest photographers by popular photography magazine (he was also reputed to be the world’s highest-paid photographer). in 2003, he received a national arts award for lifetime achievement.