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Bert Stern: Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting

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Stern, it seemed, could do no wrong. “I was having a great time. Life was all work, work was all life.” But by the late Sixties, things began to unravel.

Bert Stern’s daring attitude in creating a unique Vogue spread combined with his adoration for the actress produced fantastic images that served more so as poetic offerings to the concept of love and the power of a muse, leaving both photographer and viewer transfixed by Monroe’s unequivocal beauty. On the theatrical release of a remarkably candid and revealing feature-length documentary on his life, Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, TIME sat down with Stern at his New York apartment to talk about his passions (women and photography), advertising, inspiration and Marilyn.

Bert Stern, the famous commercial and fashion photographer of the 60s, was the last to be granted a sitting by Marilyn Monroe six weeks before her tragic death. The three-day session yielded nearly 2,600 pictures-fashion, portrait, and nude studies-of indescribable sensual and human vibrancy, of which no more than 20 were published. And yet these few photographs ineradicably shaped our image of Marilyn Monroe. The last time Marilyn would pose for a studio shoot in front of a camera. Six weeks later, the actress was found dead in her home. Even despite the ominous facts surrounding this sitting, the images it produced project a haunting, almost dreamlike quality unlike any photographs ever taken of the starlet. Vogue published The Last Sitting series one day after Monroe’s death, giving the public an intimate portrait of the star in the wake of tragedy. Though the magazine usually includes a list of designers in its shoots, editors chose to eschew its focus on the clothing and eliminated fashion credits, instead featuring only the photos as homage to the star. The shoot captured the nation’s imagination and has since inspired countless spreads, including a 2008 cover shoot featuring Lindsay Lohan in New York Magazine, photographed by Stern himself. For Stern, taking photographs was like making love — an intense, emotional experience. “I fell in love with everybody I photographed,” he says today. In his brilliantly revealing images, Stern camouflages his desire behind the camera, bestowing the viewer with the same power of admiration and focus as the photographer, while bringing the viewer there with him, into that moment. The intimacy in the photographs curtails the separation between the celebrity and the person; in this penetrating and self-indulgent shoot, the viewer gets a closer, more authentic, and liberating notion of the woman behind the lens. Monroe’s playful, inviting, and gracious posture flirts with the longing gaze of the photographer, presenting the exclusive and compassionate attention of a lover. The resultant images capture a potent but fleeting imaginary love affair, this time fortuitously caught on film by Stern.

The photos exude a sultry, almost love-at-first-sight feeling. They didn’t know each other at this point, yet I feel like the photos embody a familiarity Marilyn might have felt with Bert. And the intimacy doesn’t end there.Other starlets like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor had the pleasure of gracing his lens as well. The question is, why Marilyn? I was going to photograph Marilyn Monroe. All I had to do was figure out how to get what I wanted: pure Marilyn, nude. But I didn’t know how to approach her with that idea… Maybe the only way I was going to get it was through illusion: screens, veils. So, I went to Vogue and said, “Can you get me some scarves? Scarves you can see through – with geometrics. And jewelry.” Jewelry doesn’t need too many clothes, right?”

Bert Stern: Original Mad Man’ opened in New York on April 5, 2013. A gallery show coinciding with the film opened on April 4 at the Staley-Wise Gallery, New York. He writes very candidly in this book about his great desire to have Marilyn if he could. How did this go from a Vogue fashion shoot to a nude shoot? This book is really two books. It is a biography, and it is also a pictorial retrospective of an actress whose greatest love affair was conceivably with the camera,” wrote Norman Mailer in his 1973 biography, Marilyn. Stern grew up in Brooklyn. At the age of 16 he started work in the mail room at Look magazine. “I loved that job,” he says — but he was destined for bigger things. I have nothing to fear," Kannamma said, "and I have no vested interest in being corrupt and the people see that."Bert Stern was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 3, 1929. In a 1968 interview with Newsday, he said his father was a children’s portrait photographer. After dropping out of high school in his senior year, he served in the Army, working as a photographer on a base in Japan. That experience helped him land a job in the mailroom at Look magazine, where he became a protégé of Hershel Bramson, the art director, who would later give him his first job as a commercial photographer. The Smirnoff campaign was his first assignment. Side note: Did you know we named our Marilyn accordion-pleated skirt after Marilyn to pay homage to her infamous accordion-pleated dress that she wore in The Seven Year Itch? So, who is Bert Stern and what is The Last Sitting? takes pride in only kissing Marilyn after she just about managed to say "no" before she passed out on the bed after a grueling day of shooting

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