Bob Richardson, a fashion photographer of the 1960's and 70's who transmitted the excitements and regrets of a generation of free spirits before disappearing into a shadow land of mental illness and homelessness, died on Dec. 5 at his home in Manhattan. He was 77.
He died of natural causes, said his son, Terry.
Robert George Richardson, born to Irish-Catholic parents on Long Island, was attracted to the messy, tempestuous, desolating quality of human relations. He was one of the first photographers to recognize that these emotions were not outside the world of 60's fashion but were in fact vital to it. In a 16-page spread in French Vogue in 1967, he evoked the sex idyll, the gloom and the sudden all-obliterating passions of two lovers on a Greek island. In one shot, the model Donna Mitchell is seen crying; in another she lies on a rocky shore, her face turned away, with her nude lover in the water before her.
Mr. Richardson's pictures were radical because, more than showing youthful fashion in a liberated way, they sought to expose the life dramas that were then consuming young people. "Which were not about being applauded as you made your entrance to the opera," said Joan Juliet Buck, the writer and fashion editor, who first met Mr. Richardson in 1969 and later introduced him to her friend Anjelica Huston, with whom he had an intense four-year relationship. "They were about crying in your room, feeling lonely, hoping for sex."
To photographers like Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel and Peter Lindbergh, Mr. Richardson was a pathfinder. As Mr. Weber said, describing his influence: "There's no textbook, no award, but there is this Bob Richardson school of photography. And it's an anti school. He was the first guy who said it was O.K. to underexpose the film, to not show the clothes." Mr. Weber added: "So many photographers when I first started out idolized Bob. He was sort of an underground figure."
In a 1995 profile in The New Yorker, when Mr. Richardson had resurfaced after more than a decade of drifting around Southern California and living in cheap motels or at times on the beach, he told the writer Ingrid Sischy: "I wanted to put reality in my photographs. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll - that's what was happening. And I was going to help make it happen. Boy, they did not want that in America. Some of those editors were still wearing white gloves to couture."
Mr. Richardson was as overbearing and opinionated as he was seductive and handsome. Terry Richardson said his father's schizophrenia was diagnosed in the 1960's. Years of drug and alcohol abuse added to his instability and increasing rootlessness, especially in the 80's, when he had mostly cut off ties with his family. Terry Richardson, also a photographer, said he first helped get his father off the streets in 1984, and by then he had been homeless for two years. "He had lost everything," his son said.
After growing up in Rockville Centre, N.Y., Mr. Richardson studied art at the Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute without graduating. His first marriage, to Barbara Mead, produced a daughter, Margaret, but soon collapsed; according to The New Yorker article, Mr. Richardson did not maintain contact with them. (Terry Richardson said he had not seen his half-sister in a decade and did not know her whereabouts. There are no other immediate survivors.)
By the early 60's, Mr. Richardson was taking fashion photographs and had resolved, he told Ms. Sischy, to "photograph my kind of woman." Harper's Bazaar gave him his first commission in 1963, and the magazine's art directors, Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler, seemed especially attuned to his loose, unencumbered style.
Around this time, he married an actress named Norma Kessler (from whom he was later divorced), and Terry, their only child, was born in 1965. Norma served as the assistant for the Greek island shoot two years later. "It was just my mom, Dad and me with a bag of clothes," Terry said. "They just went off together and did these pictures."
By 1970, Richardson was deeply involved with Ms. Huston, who was 18 when they met, and together they would produce some of the most wistful portraits of the era. Certainly no photographer ever made Ms. Huston look more beautiful. Terry Richardson said the two last saw each other at an airport in 1973, when they went their separate ways.
With much of Mr. Richardson's original work lost or buried in magazine archives, a number of individuals, including Mr. Meisel and the art historian Martin Harrison, tried to help restore at least his reputation as an groundbreaking photographer. And in the 90's he received some new assignments from magazines like Italian Vogue.
But Mr. Richardson could be hardest on the people who loved him. "It was his way or the highway," his son said.
Early this year, Mr. Richardson, who had been living in Los Angeles, decided to return to New York, driving across the country in an old Mercedes with his dog, Mick, and taking pictures. He had a publishing deal to produce his first monograph, with Greybull, but through some orneriness, it fell through.
Terry Richardson said he would do the book, which includes an autobiography. And in deference to his father's wishes, it will not have any color pictures: "My dad always said, 'I see the world in black and white.' "