Bert Stern, who died Tuesday at the age of 83, was perhaps best known for his raw, uninhibited photograph of Marilyn Monroe lounging in a hotel room just six weeks before she died. But many of Stern's lucid, eye-popping images entered the collective consciousness. Stern was called an "original madmen," according to a recent documentary, and Paul Vitello wrote in his New York Times obituary that Stern was "part of a generation of photographers who made clear, clutter-free, arresting images the language of glossy magazine advertising, which until then had mainly used pictures to illustrate text." To remember him, let's look at some of his most iconic images.
Shot for Vogue magazine, Stern's photos of Marilyn—who poses in various states of undress—are tinged with sadness due to their proximity to her death. Per the Times obit, Stern told Newsday: "I didn't say, 'Pose nude.' It was more one thing leading to another: You take clothes off and off and off and off and off. She thought for a while. I'd say something and the pose just led to itself." In 2008 Stern would recreate recreated the shoot for New York with another troubled starlet: Lindsay Lohan. (Photo via Staley-Wise Gallery)
Stern shot images like this one for Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Lolita. As Steven Heller wrote in The Atlantic, Stern directly undercut the studio's wishes to downplay the scandalous nature of the subject matter. "Movie posters are rarely more than mediocre sales tools, but Stern could not abide mediocrity," Hell wrote. "What's more, he couldn't resist the temptation to be bad. So, while driving [actress Sue] Lyon to the photo shoot, Stern recalled that he serendipitously found the sunglasses in Woolworths, bought them, put them on Lyons and instantly had the perfect shot—the studio be damned." (Photo via Staley-Wise Gallery)
This Smirnoff vodka advertisement was, according to Vitello, the way Stern "made his mark." It was called "the most influential break with traditional advertising photography." (Photo via Christie's)
Jazz on a Summer's Day
Stern's film documenting the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival features performances from the likes of Thelonius Monk and Dinah Washington and has a home in the Library of Congress.
Stern said his favorite subjects were models, like Twiggy. "What makes a great model is her need, her desire; and it’s exciting to photograph desire," he said. (Photo via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
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