History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary






1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991


see also:

Stern Bert

Chapter 25  (part I)



Bert Stern

see also collection:
American symbol
Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn's Last Sitting

Epitaph in


He may not have been the first to photograph her, but he was certainly the last. In July 1962, the young photographer Bert Stern succeeded in three sittings in capturing a many-faceted portrait of an unusually relaxed and playful, close and direct Marilyn Monroe. A few weeks later she was dead. What had begun as an eight-page homage to the screen star in Vogue became an obituary, and has entered photographic history as Marilyn's Last Sitting.


His first words upon meeting her were short and simple: "You're beautiful" - perhaps not exactly the most original start to a conversation, but Bert Stern does not seem to have been a man of many words. Moreover, what does a man say when he suddenly finds himself face to face with a woman whose screen presence and sex appeal have already caused millions of men throughout the world to lose their reason? A true "Stradivarius of sex," as Norman Mailer once described her. And as such, she might just as well have been a mere invention of film, a creation of makeup and curlers, light and direction. Seen in this way, Stern's entree was nothing less than the translation of a myth into reality. Furthermore, the words were honest and spontaneous - and they seemed to have pleased her. "Really? What a nice thing to say," she answered -which also sounded self-confident: not the content, but the manner in which it was said, evoked her comment - not the 'what' but the 'how'. For she well knew that she was attractive. And she also knew that the way she looked was her capital in a world which in other respects had hardly treated her well. After a comfortless childhood with bigoted foster-parents came three broken marriages and a round dozen abortions and miscarriages. Finally an unhappy affair with the American president. She had tried to challenge the omnipotence of the studios - and lost. Nonetheless, she had succeeded in making fifteen films - admittedly none of them productions that critics considered worth entering in the annals of film history. Furthermore, she was not even fairly paid for her work, in comparison with the brunette Liz Taylor, who was in a sense Marilyn's opposite number throughout her life. For filming Cleopatra, Liz received as much in one week as Marilyn did for an entire film. It may be that for Marilyn Monroe a glance in the mirror compensated for a great deal. She was beautiful, in fact, and no one could take her beauty away from her - or at any rate, only time, alcohol, and sleeping tablets, which in this phase of her life had already formed into an unholy alliance. And perhaps it was really true, as Clare Booth Luce formulated in her obituary in Life, that Marilyn Monroe was moved by the fear of becoming old and ugly when she took that mixture of Dom Perignon and barbiturates that carried her from a state of drowsiness to an eternal sleep on the night of 4 August 1962. Or perhaps it was indeed murder, as many still whisper today, ordered from on high - from the very highest levels - to hide something or other? The death of Marilyn Monroe remains until today one of the great unsolved riddles of the twentieth century.

But now it is still only July. We find ourselves in the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles. Not a bad address, and presumably the most suitable location to realize an idea that the photographer Bert Stern hardly dares to dream about. At the time of the photograph, he was thirty-six years old and already one of the best-paid photographers in New York, which is to say, the world. Ever since he had helped a brand of vodka named 'Smirnoff to truly sensational profits through a spectacular advertising photograph - no small feat at the time of the Cold War - he had become one of the most sought-after photographers in the branch. In addition, he had a lucrative contract with the American Vogue, both then and now the Olympia of all those for whom the camera is the true medium to lend a certain durability to the appearance of beauty. Stern had been eighteen years old when he saw a still life by Irving Penn, which opened a door in his mind. Nonetheless, it would not be still lifes that would inspire him and finally drive him to a career in photography, but rather life itself, especially in those places where it is sensual and full, exciting and erotic. Here Stern reflects precisely the pattern that Michelangelo Antonioni had made into an ideal in the 1960s with his film Blow Up. In this sense, Bert Stern dreamed his dream, although even before Antonioni he had discovered the camera to be the ideal "dream machine" that it became for at least a generation of photographers who followed upon David Hemmings. And as he noted, it was amazing all the things it allowed him to get and the people he was able to get, as long as he had a camera on him. In this way, some of his boldest dreams came to be realized.


Lighthouse on the horizon


And the boldest of bold ideas? To photograph Marilyn Monroe- naked. One must place oneself mentally back in the 1950s or early 1960s -furnished with a good measure of fantasy and sympathy -to evaluate the full audacity of Stern's longing. In addition, the photographer was, in spite of his promising career in photography, still a nobody - at least compared with Monroe, the superlative, who could claim to be "America's greatest sex symbol" (Joan Mellen). And that would probably be an understatement. She was already long an international idol, a global pin-up girl, and the lighthouse on the horizon of male fantasies around the globe. She was, as Normal Mailer phrased it, "the sweet angel of sex... Across five continents the men who knew the most about love would covet her, and the classical pimples of the adolescent working his first gas pump would also pump for her, since Marilyn was deliverance." Innumerable photographers had done her portrait in more or less provocative poses. And they were an impressive group: Andre de Dienes, for example, who can claim the credit for discovering Marilyn; or Cecil Beaton, the master of glamour in fashion; or Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ernst Haas, Henri Cartier-Bresson - in other words, the top rung of international photojournalists. In addition, she had modeled for Richard Avedon and Milton Greene. Philippe Halsman, not to mention Frank Powolny or Leonard McCombe, had done her portrait. She liked to be photographed. She loved the presence of a camera. She knew how to pose. Completely without clothes, however, she had been photographed only once. That was in 1949, and when Tom Kelley's photograph appeared years later in a pin-up catalogue in March 1952, it almost brought her Hollywood career to an end. Her films crackled with eroticism; she was always playing the easy girl. And the most memorable scene from The Seven Year Itch - that is, Marilyn standing on the subway vent - became one of the most famous in movie history. But then, after all, an ambivalent attitude toward sexuality was one of the many contradictions endemic to the 1950s. Bert Stern was exactly twenty-six years old when he met Marilyn Monroe for the first time. That was the upstroke, so to speak, to a fixed idea that would take shape on this late July day in 1962 in the most beautiful sense of the word. After Dienes and Beaton, Avedon and Green, now he, Bert Stern, was allowed to photograph Marilyn Monroe - that same Marilyn who had given wings to his thoughts ever since 1955, and whom he had 'desired' since that time, as he himself admitted. "The first time I saw her", he relates, "was at a party for the Actors Studio, in New York City. It was 1955. A friend and ! had been invited, and when walked in, there was Marilyn Monroe. She was the center of attention. All the men were around her, and all the light in the room seemed focused on her. Or was the light coming from her? It seemed to be, because she glowed. She had that blond hair and luminous skin, she wore a gleaming sheath of emerald-green that fit her body like a coat of wet green paint. 'Look at that dress,' I said to my friend. 1 hear they sew her into it,' he said. How could you get her out of it, I wondered, with a razor blade? I'd laid eyes on Marilyn Monroe only moments before and already ideas about taking her clothes off were going through my mind."


The goal of his dreams and secret fantasies


In the meantime it is 1962, and Bert Stern is about to reach the goal of his dreams and secret fantasies. The Dom Perignon vintage 1953 has been chilled, and Suite Number 261 in the upper floor of the Bel Air has been transformed into a temporary studio. The lighting is in place, the portable hi-fi set up. He wanted not only to create a space out of light, as he said, but also an environment of sounds. In this case, it was not Sinatra, as Avedon had used, but the Everly Brothers. The people at Vogue had done him a favor and gotten him some gauze-thin cloths. That the editors had accepted his proposal to supply a portrait of Monroe had been no less surprising than the spontaneous "yes" from Marilyn Monroe herself. The luxury liner among the magazines had never published anything about Marilyn - who, it was known, really was named Norma Jean Baker, an illegitimate child hardly stemming from the social sphere to which Vogue usually devoted its attention and its pages. But in the meantime, Marilyn had become such an integral part of the American Dream that even Vogue, where dreaming was naturally at home, could no longer ignore her. The photo session was intended as her entry into Conde Nast. It became her epitaph.

It was getting toward seven o'clock and Bert Stern was beginning to get restless. He knew that Marilyn Monroe was notoriously unpunctual, but he had already been waiting for a good five hours now. What if she came only for a short time? he began to ask himself. What if the dream Marilyn had little to do with the real Marilyn Monroe? After all, the fact was that she was "well into her thirties, and she really was a little chubby", as he had seen in The Misfits. Still on the evening before, alone in the atmospheric illumination of the Bel Air garden, the wildest ideas had coursed through Bert Stern's head - thoughts that a married man and father of a little daughter had better not entertain. "I was preparing for Marilyn's arrival like a lover," Stern recalled, "and yet I was here to take photographs. Not to take her in my arms, but to turn her into tones, and planes, and shapes, and ultimately into an image for the printed page." The photographer found himself back in reality as the telephone finally rang: Miss Monroe had arrived. "I slowly put down the phone and took a deep breath."


Better than the full-blooded girl I had seen in the movies

see also collection:
American symbol
Marilyn Monroe

He met her in the lobby of the hotel. To his great surprise, she had come alone. No bodyguards, no press agents, not even her PR girl, Pat New-comb, had accompanied her. "She had lost weight, and the loss had transformed her. She was better than the full-blooded, almost over-blown girl I had seen in the movies. In her pale-green slacks and cashmere sweater she was slender and trim, with just enough softness in the right places - all of it hers. She had wrapped a scarf around her hair, and wore no make-up. Nothing. And she was gorgeous. I had expected - feared -an elaborate imitation. No. She was the real thing." In a moment he would ask her whether she was in a hurry, "No," she would answer, "why?" - "I thought you were going to have like five minutes," he would reply. "Are you kidding," she will smilingly say, entirely the professional. "Well," he will carefully announce; "How much time have you got?" "All the time that we want!"

In the end, it would amount to almost twelve hours. And Bert Stern, the child of a lower middle-class Brooklyn family, as he described himself at one point, is able to get what he hoped for. Everything. Almost every-thing. At his request, Marilyn does without make-up, or applies at most a bit of eye-liner and lipstick; under his direction, she drapes herself in a boa. Even the transparent veils come into play. "You want me to do nudes?" she asks, and the stammering Stern replies: "Uh, well I - I guess so!", adding "...it wouldn't be exactly nude. You'd have the scarf." - "Well, how much would you see through?" - "That depends on how I light it." And will her scar be visible? Stern does not understand what she is referring to, but she explains that six weeks ago, her gall bladder was removed. Bert Stern assures her that it will be no problem to retouch it, and recalls a statement of Diana Vreeland that "...a woman is beautiful by her scars". Marilyn is like putty in the photographer's hand. "I didn't have to tell her what to do", as he later recalled. "We hardly talked to each other at all. We just worked it out. I'd photographed a lot of women, and Marilyn was the best. She'd move into an idea, I'd see it, quickly lock it in, click it, and my strobes would go off like a lightning flash -PKCHEWW!! -and get it with a zillionth of a second." Vogue liked the pictures. Alexander Liberman, at that time still the all-powerful art director of the magazine, pronounced them "fabulous" -but Stern knew that with Liberman, everything was "divine." This time, however, he seemed to be serious: Vogue devoted eight pages to Stern's pictures. The magazine apparently realized that it had gotten onto some-thing good - and wanted more. But, as Vogue let Stern know, they needed more black-and-white. Stern understood immediately: "That meant fashion pages. And that meant that they didn't want to run just nudes. They were probably going to get a lot of clothes, cover her up." There were in fact two more photo sessions in the Bel Air, to which Vogue sent along its best editor - a sign Stern interpreted as meaning that the magazine was indeed serious about the project. And so once again, the Everly Brothers sounded forth on the portable hi-fi, and once more the lightning storm of flash bulbs blitzed down on a tender Marilyn, whose weight coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi would determine just three weeks later at 115 Ib - further describing her in his report as a well-nourished woman, 5'5" tall. But for now, the Vogue editor Babs Simpson had brought mountains of fashion clothing and furs along with her. And the Dom Perignon is present once again as Bert Stern takes his photographs. In the end, he suddenly remembered the "picture I came for - that one black and white that was going to last for ever Like Steichen's Garbo". Stern entered "that space where everything is silent but the clicking of the strobes". Then all at once, as he recalled, Marilyn tossed her head, "laughing, and her arm was up, like waving farewell. I saw what I wanted, I pressed the button, and she was mine. It was the last picture."


Not only the photos were crossed through


Vogue decided in the end for the black-and-white photographs, and by the beginning of August, the chosen pictures were in the layout, and the text had been composed. It was scheduled to be printed on Monday 6 August. Stern had sent Marilyn a set of pictures, but received two thirds of them back crossed out: "On the contact sheets she had made x's in magic marker. That was all right," as he later reflected. "But she had x-ed out the color transparencies with a hairpin, right on the film. The ones she had x-ed out were mutilated. Destroyed." Bert Stern was upset, even felt "some anger"; but as he later realized "she hadn't just scratched out my pictures, she'd scratched out herself." Weeks later, friends invited him to brunch. It was Saturday, 4 August, and the television in the hallway was beaming out the usual American interiors. Suddenly the program was interrupted: "Marilyn Monroe," the speaker announced, "committed suicide last night."

"I didn't know what I felt," Stern recalled. "I was just paralyzed, shocked in a dumb, numb way." But the photographer claims that "there was some way in which I was not surprised... I'd smelled trouble." And Vogue} They stopped the weekend presses in order to create a new head-line and compose another text. "Greetings" became "a last greeting from Marilyn," at the end of which Bert Stern's final portrait came to stand. It was in any case the last large picture of the series, just as Stern's cycle is the last of the great series on the "American love goddess" who still calls to us through these pictures, as Bert Stern phrased it, like to "a moth fly-ins around a candle."





Bertram Stern (born 3 October 1929) is an American fashion and celebrity portrait photographer.

His best known work is arguably The Last Sitting, a collection of 2,500 photographs taken of Marilyn Monroe over a three day period, six weeks before her death, taken for Vogue. Stern published Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting in 1962. In it, he recounted being enchanted by her until a near-intimate encounter after the second day of shooting; he then realized that she was deeply troubled.
He also directed Jazz on a Summer's Day, a 1959 documentary film set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In 1999 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Stern worked as a photographer on Lolita and shot the publicity photographs of Sue Lyon. He has photographed Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Drew Barrymore and Lindsay Lohan (recreating The Last Sitting), among others, in addition to his work for advertising and travel publications.



see also collection: American symbol Marilyn Monroe



Marilyn Monroe

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