I could not resist going to the library, after reading that an
innovative and self-taught photographer named Bert Stern
passed away last Tuesday, May 25, 2013. He was born on
October 3, 1929.
How will you know this famous, but not always recognized,
photographer? He started as a mail room clerk at “Look”
magazine, straight out of high school. Bert made his way up
from the mailroom, as the rags to riches story unfolded.
Once he left this position, he moved to “Mayfair” magazine
becoming the art director, and proceeded to fine tune his skills
Bert Stern liked to say that he “didn’t know how to read a light
meter.” By the mid-1950’s, Stern became known for his memorable
and strikingly unique angles in advertising, including his advertising
for Smirnoff vodka martini.
Here are a few unusual artistic shots of “The driest of the dry” vodka
martinis. One was with men in dark business suits sitting in sand
dunes, holding martini glasses. Another captured a camel walking
down Fifth Avenue in NYC. An expensive but worthy photo shoot in
Egypt, presents a martini glass in the sand, with the Great Pyramid
of Giza behind it. Matt Schudel, Washington Post reporter, describes
this awesome angle as:
“The tip of the pyramid, suffused in pinkish-gold light, is refracted upside
down in the liquid inside the glass.”
The “creative revolution” in advertising in the 50’s, depicted in Mad Men
television series, is attributed to Bert Stern. He also is famous for his
portrayal of Marilyn Monroe known as “The Last Sitting,” since it was held
in July, 1962. Marilyn died August 5, 1962 at age 36. These 2,571 images were
published a 1982 book, titled “Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting.”
Originally, Vogue had been the one to send Bert to Hollywood to take these
photographs. Bert brought 3 bottles of Dom Perignon and without even her
drinking a sip, she was very easily relaxed. Later, he recounted in an Australian
” She was much more beautiful and easier to work with than I expected.”
Bert Stern’s other major accomplishment was a landmark jazz documentary
film, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in
This film was made before his 30th birthday, including crowd and sailboat
images, along with footage of musicians who could fill the Hall of Fame for
Jazz! Here are just a few names to ‘drop’: Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry,
Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan and Anita O’Day.
He was later given the opportunity to take portrait photographs of major
movie stars, such as Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey
Hepburn and 1950’s model, Suzy Parker. In 1962, he made the movie poster
photograph of teen actress Sue Lyon with her heart shaped sunglasses for
A 2011 documentary was made by Laumeister, “Bert Stern: Original Mad Man.”
Renowned designer, George Lois, said of Stern’s advertising photography was
“breathtaking because they were ideas.”
In 2011, talking of himself, Stern said, “I don’t consider myself a photographer,
I’m a designer with a camera.”
The death of this outstanding photographer, Bert Stern, captured my heart
reading the tributes to him. Also, seeing and studying some examples of his
fine body of work.
This made me come “out of hiding” from my Mom’s apartment and I threw
aside my “recreation and relaxation” to go to the Westlake Public Library.
I regret to say I did not check out your interesting, both funny and serious,
posts. Please just accept that I wanted to inform you of a loss of this man with
humble origins who made it to acclaim and fortune, through learning his
trade and gave us so much in return.