Bert Stern - Potrait Influence

Yep another iconic set for consideration. In what became known as 'The Last Sitting' with the shoots (three in total) for Vogue magazine occurring only weeks before Marilyn's death. During the shoots Stern captured both the Marilyn we knew and a Marilyn entirely different to the Silver Screen icon that the Western World became familiar with. Marilyn had for some time been expressing that she was a whole person with emotions, opinions, beliefs and values, that she was more than just an object of desire.

Stern had gone down the nudes route in the first session, however Vogue wasn't happy. It didn't want nudes and it didn't want colour. It wanted B&W, it wanted fashion. Hence another two sittings.

I open with the iconic 'crucifix' image. The idea came about simply because Vogues photography editor returned the transparencies to Stern with a 'x' to indicate not accepted. Perhaps the crucifix resonates with the idea of Marilyn's suicide as a form of self sacrifice. It has certainly become the 'signpost' for the collection from the three sittings.

It is the following image that gave Marilyn a sophistication that we don't readily associate her with. The black all covering dress, the hair tied up, looking away from the camera not being brash and sassy - being quite the opposite the antithesis of her own celebrity.

The lighting (seemingly side lit and slightly behind from the left, and rear lit from the right) has allowed the lines on her neck and shoulders to come through, giving a refined look (rather than the smooth washed out images that we usually see and that Stern himself repeats elsewhere. The pose provides a more angular look more fitting with today's models than the curvaceous models of the late 50's early 60's.

Here's a glamour pose to contrast that sophisticated shot. Light from the front to bring out highlights on the shoulder, breast, beads and face. There also seems to be a top light giving contrast to the hair. Almost washed out at the top but with the soft shadows bringing out the waves and very tips of the hair. The white background allows Marilyn to dominate the image. Notice how the hair almost merges with the background at the crown yet contrasts as we near the shoulder. 
It also does this from the front of the head to the back.

Same Marilyn, different woman?
Whilst a lot of post production here the image represents and entirely different aspect of Marilyn. Strongly back and side light Marilyn is in soft shadow. It is the 'robes' that grab our immediate attention. Ye we know it's a sheet but somehow the suggestion of Roman Goddess comes through. The hair is now yellow, whereas in the shots above it has been white and almost grey (adding to that look of refinement that I mentioned).

The hair over one eye also lends to the suggestion of having just bathed. Let's have a look at the original - an all together different message. Now we see that is a bed behind her, and she is just getting out of it in the middle of the day, look at her dishevelled hair - whatever has she been doing? The use of that back light gives us the most powerful message that we then start to add information to arrive at a value judgement.

And now elegance with playfulness. The hair, the jewelery, the ball gown all suggest a woman of importance, not just desire. The poses bring the playfulness of Marilyn back to the image.

The fully body shots lengthens her and suggest tallness (which is a body language signal for importance - studies have show that in business, tall and or handsome  people fair disproportionately better that the converse). Hollywood has and continues to match lead characters with supporting actors that support this thinking. Other uses included the 'shorter' character standing on out of sight objects to raise their stature.

Again we see the light from the left and slightly to the rear. The dress again takes predominance. The first two poses help to lengthen and slim the subject whilst the third is almost statuesque. In three of the image so far - unless you knew the collection - I believe you'd be hard pushed to suggest that this was Marilyn Monroe.

In the shot above Marilyn 'dressed up' to imitate Jackie Onassis. This time a diffused front light has been used to create texture in the white top. A top light creates reflections in the hair and bring out the texture of the lines and curls. The lighting this time does not 'wash out' Marilyn's skin - indeed the skins looks sallow and with hairs given strong imitations of a Southern European female. All that with lighting!

I like the following image not because it directly supports my theme but because it does indirectly. The images immediately resonate with the new Wave female icon of the late 70's early 80's Debbie Harry a.k.a. 'Blondie'. The physical similarities are obvious. It is the notion that the alluring 60's pose were deemed, during the height of punk rock and new wave' to represent a Woman doing her own thing, fronting an all male punk band, two fingers up to the establishment and perceptions of women as the 'tender' sex.

Whilst this was Stern's defining moment he did of course go on to produce significant other works including 'Lolita'. Similar to my use of Newton's work I am seeking to build a body of work to support my proposed them and not an exploration of the photographer's work.
Bert Stern's Website

Here's some more images from those famous sittings.

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