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SID AVERY (1918-2002)


One of six children, Sid Avery was born in 1918 in Ohio and moved to Los Angeles at a young age. Avery repaired a broken brownie box camera that he had found, and with the tutelage of his architectural photographer uncle he began to learn the basics of the photographic profession.  By the time he entered Roosevelt High School, Avery’s talent in photography won him numerous prizes and after graduation he landed a job at Morgan’s Camera store on Sunset Boulevard.

Avery was pursuing various odd photography jobs when World War II intervened.  He was drafted into the Army, assigned to the Signal Corps, and selected to receive six months of training atLifemagazine in New York before being sent overseas.  Avery was stationed in London and was placed in charge of the Army Pictorial Service Laboratory, where all the stills and combat footage that came out of the European Theater of Operations passed through his hands. This included the detailed, highly classified photomontages of the French coast which were produced for the Normandy invasion.  In order to handle this special material, Avery was granted an immediate commission by General Eisenhower himself.

Photojournalism publications proliferated during the post-war years, and interest in film stars and their private lives grew to an all time high.  During the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Avery photographed screen legends such as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable, James Dean, Marlon Brando, James Stewart, and Alfred Hitchcock.  His photographic essays appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Photoplay, Collier’s, Reader’s Digest,and many others.

Avery’s characteristically low key, unobtrusive manner struck a sympathetic chord with reclusive and difficult personalities like Humphrey Bogart, who generally refused to be photographed.  Bogart would eventually allow himself to be photographed by Avery with his pregnant wife Lauren Bacall and his son Stephen at their home.  

Avery appeared at the Griffith Park Observatory when "Rebel Without a Cause" was then being filmed there.  Though he tried to work at a distance, Avery and his new Hasselblad acted like a magnet, and it wasn’t long before the film’s star James Dean, curiosity aroused, asked to examine the camera.  When Dean’s later film, "Giant", was made in Texas, Avery was one of the few still photographers permitted on location.

Avery also directed television commercials for brands like Oldsmobile, Coca-Cola, U.S. Steel, Max Factor, and General Mills, and received numerous art directing awards for this work.  He is credited with helping to develop new photographic technologies such as solarized lens resolution, soft-lenses, and synchronized strobes for the motion picture camera.

Avery was the guiding force behind the founding and development of the Hollywood Photographers Archives, a public cultural resource.  HPA was a non-profit corporation which documented, preserved, and made available for study the finest of the old Hollywood photographs - many of which, before his intervention, were fast disappearing in a sea of neglect and indifference. Avery also founded the Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive which exhibits, preserves, and releases outstanding stock images for purposes of publication.

Sid Avery photographs have been exhibited and have been included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.

Sid Avery died in 2002.

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