“There have been many beautiful women since Marilyn Monroe. But who is there that has her total magic? Nobody has that vulnerability anymore.” -Bert Stern
Bert Stern has been called the “original mad man” because of a single photograph that changed, no, revolutionized product photography. In 1955, Look magazine’s art director gave him his first commercial photography assignment — a campaign to introduce Smirnoff Vodka to America. He envisioned a reflection, upside down, of the pyramids in a martini glass. The ad agency asked how he would build the set. Stern replied that he was going to Egypt to make the photograph. It is in the upper right corner of the opening gallery above.
Advertisers and celebrities
Bert Stern was a wanted man by both advertisers and celebrities. Many of them wanted his vision of seeing an idea in his head then realizing it on film. He photographed models, actors, musicians — Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, Harpo Marx, Buster Keaton, Veruschka and Marilyn Monroe a few weeks before she died.
Monroe was famous for editing a take of her photographs destructively. She took fingernail scissors to the photos she didn’t like that Douglas Kirkland made. For Stern’s work, she X’ed through her rejects with a magic marker. An example appears in the opening gallery. Her rejects complete with Xs along with approved prints are available from the Staley Wise Gallery in New York. Stern’s three days sitting at the Bel Aire Hotel with Marilyn was her last. It was June of 1962.
Stern was also a filmmaker. His “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” documents the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. The film was chosen to be preserved in the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry.
Sadly, little has been written about this amazing photographer. I recommend viewing the documentary.
Here’s a clip from “Bert Stern: The Original Madman” produced by his wife, Shannah Laumeister.
Visit Bert’s website.
Read about other influential photographers in On Photography.