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One of Stern's most popular 'Marilyns', at the Staley Wise Gallery, NYC

One of Stern’s most popular ‘Marilyns’, at the Staley Wise Gallery, NYC

The American portrait photographer Bert Stern, famed for his provocative images of Marilyn Monroe and others, died aged 83 on June 26th, 2013, the New York Times reports.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing his work here and at ES Updates.

But first, here’s a personal tribute from artist and photographer Mary Ann Lynch, who met Mr Stern at a New York gallery opening, in April this year.

Meeting Bert Stern

By Mary Ann Lynch

April 4, 2013. 560 Broadway, NYC.  

It was near closing time, and Bert Stern had not been out of the inner office since I had entered the Staley-Wise Gallery an hour and a half before– hoping to meet him along with seeing his exhibit and especially the Marilyn Monroe images. 

I had arrived about twenty minutes into the opening, looked for him with no luck and then noticed a huge crowd gathered in one area.

‘What’s happening there?’ I asked, and someone said, ‘Everybody’s hoping for Bert Stern to come out, even though he said he wouldn’t do any more signing.’

So I began to take in the show, edging my way through the crowd of fans, collectors, models, former models, and advertising and other professionals, many of them waving excitedly to one another above the crowd.

Fans in waiting...

Fans in waiting…

One dark-haired woman at a distance waggled her fingers at me repeatedly and then came over and said ‘Don’t you recognize me?’ I said, ‘I don’t, we’ve never met, who are you?’

The din was such that I couldn’t even hear her reply.

It was that sort of night and I could well understand Stern’s decision to retreat. After all, he was eighty-three. The trail  of fanfare and appearances at film festivals and theaters for the documentary, Bert Stern: Original Madman, must have been wearying.

Stern’s fame had made him legendary as a groundbreaking advertising photographer in the 1960s – early in his career – and he had lived a non-stop lifestyle with some hills and valleys and close calls: this new burst of attention and activity was likely tough to handle.

Newspaper ad for the film at Cinema Village

Newspaper ad for the film at Cinema Village

So he stayed seated behind the closed glass door, with a changing group of friends around him, while Marilyn Monroe commanded the major presence – in Stern’s compelling photographs throughout the gallery.

Most wanted their pictures taken with a Marilyn, many choosing the portrait with a large orange ‘X’ through it, placed on the contact sheet by Marilyn because she didn’t like the image.

Seeing I had a camera and not just a cell phone, a few people asked me to photograph them and I did, passing time until I could gain a moment with Stern himself. The crowd thinned as closing time approached.

Linda Morand, American fashion model and cover girl of the 1960s, known as ‘Super Chick’ – now an archivist and consultant

I found a group around Shannah Laumeister, who directed the film, and photographed her- looking as if she had also seen enough.

Shannah Laumeister, director of 'Bert Stern: Original Madman'

Shannah Laumeister, director of ‘Bert Stern: Original Madman’

So I circled back toward the inner sanctum, hoping to be lucky. The door opened and a pleasant-seeming woman came out. I asked if there was any chance I might have Stern sign one of the promo cards – unexpectedly, she let me pass, saying ‘Give it a try.’

The room was clearing out. Standing in front of Stern, I asked if he would sign yet one more card. He took it, signed it. I mentioned I had an ongoing series on Marilyn Monroe, gave him one of my cards with Blue Marilyn – my most popular image – on it.

He looked at it and put it in his breast pocket. I offered him a postcard of it as well. Patting his jacket pocket, he said, ‘I’ve got this right here.’

I ventured, ‘could I do a portrait of you?’ He looked me in the eyes and ordered, ‘Make it quick.’

I did two very fast exposures, the same way I’ve done in pressing circumstances since the 1970s, when I began making candid portraits of artists. I looked at the image on the camera and held it out to him as I said ‘I think you’ll like this.’

Bert Stern in NYC, April 2013 - 'Make it quick.'

Bert Stern in NYC, April 2013 – ‘Make it quick.’

He looked for a moment. I thanked him again and then someone else took his attention.

I knew there’d be another opportunity to actually speak with Stern and Laumeister, at the Q&A session after the screening of the  film at Cinema Village. And I did.

I also photographed both together after the screening. They had been known to be longtime companions, but it was only with Stern’s death that Laumeister revealed they had been secretly married since 2009.

All text and photos by Mary Ann Lynch. mlynch3424@aol.com

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