Avedon was born in New York City, to a Jewish family. His father, Jacob Israel Avedon, was a Russian-born immigrant who advanced from menial work to starting his own successful retail dress business on Fifth Avenue, called Avedon's Fifth Avenue. His mother, Anna, from a family that owned a dress-manufacturing business, encouraged Richard's love of fashion and art. Avedon's interest in photography emerged when, at age 12, he joined a Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) Camera Club. He would use his family's Kodak Box Brownie not only to feed his curiosity about the world, but also to retreat from his personal life. His father was a critical and remote disciplinarian who insisted that physical strength, education and money prepared one for life. The photographer's first muse was his younger sister, Louise. During her teen years she struggled through psychiatric treatment, eventually becoming increasingly withdrawn from reality and diagnosed with schizophrenia. These early influences of fashion and family would shape Avedon's life and career, often expressed in his desire to capture tragic beauty in photos.