BERT SHTERN – CREATOR OF SIGN PORTRAITS OF CELEBRITIES
American photographer and documentary filmmaker Bertram, or Bert Stern (© Bert Stern) is an iconic figure in the world of commercial and fashion photography. This is one of the founders of fashionable and advertising photography in the form that is familiar to us today, in many ways anticipating the direction of development of the genre. The greatest glory brought him the 50s and 60s of the twentieth century, when he worked closely with the largest movie stars of the planet, but the photographer collaborated with modern celebrities – Madonna, Kate Moss, Kylie Minogue and others.
Stern’s career is whimsical – in the mid-60s, having broken from overstrain and psychological problems, he threw everything and left for Spain. The photographer was able to return to work only at the end of the 70s – he had to restore both himself and his career from the ruins. With the help of Shannah Lomeister, who became his muse (and later his wife), he regained his former glory by revising his life – he frankly told her about it in the documentary film Bern Stern: Original Madman, released shortly before his death in 2013 Shanna tried to capture everything that Bert said and did, so that the memory of him continued to live with his works.
As the photographer himself said, he always loved to shoot portraits. The most famous Stern photo shoot – Marilyn Monroe shot, held six weeks before her death. In 2008, 36 shots (there were more than two and a half thousand of them altogether) were sold at Christie’s auction for almost 150 thousand dollars. Photos taken by Stern in 1962 published American Vogue, and in the late 90s they were published as a separate book.
This is an atypical project for the time – Monroe was filmed not in the classic studio, but in the suite of the Los Angeles hotel Bel Air. Now many stars are holding photo shoots in luxury hotel rooms, but for the early 60s it was a novelty. The photographer did not want to make a standard fashion-shooting with accessories and decorations, issued by a magazine stylist. He gave an original photo session and showed it to the creative director of Vogue. Alexander Lieberman was delighted and soon called Stern with a proposal to conduct another shooting stars.
The second photo session was black and white and very frank. The magazine even had to send it to the Monroe team for approval, which was not usually done at Vogue. Many shots rejected because of the unusual and the fact that Marilyn posed naked. Later, they published the magazine Eros, having received official permission to use. The photo session was held a month after the actress had an operation. Nevertheless, she succumbed to Bert’s charm and was not only photographed naked, but also drank champagne, which she was strictly forbidden.
The photographer, whom evil tongues called unprincipled man in love, loved women, and they reciprocated his feelings. Such relationships revealed the beauty and facets of the personality in Stern’s portraits. Not only pictures of Monroe, but also pictures of Elizabeth Taylor, became the landmark. Bert was friends with her and one of her husbands, Richard Burton. By order of the film studio of the twentieth century Fox made a photo project for the painting “Cleopatra”. At the time of the shooting, Stern was familiar with Barton, who introduced him to Taylor. The tumultuous romance of two movie stars unfolded in front of Stern, they spent a lot of time together, and the pictures of the actors turned out to be lively and sincere.
During the shooting of “Cleopatra” Bertha received a call from Glamor magazine, offering a job. Photographing for gloss, he caught the attention of Vogue, with whom he had always dreamed of working together. Thus began his career as a fashion photographer. Bert photographed stars of cinema, luster and jazz – Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Louis Armstrong, Gene Shrimpton and many others. Simultaneously with the portrait and fashion photography, he was engaged in photo advertising, for the development of which he did a lot.
The future photographer was born in 1929, grew up in New York and began working at the age of 16. His mother and father, who worked as a photographer, were of Jewish origin and emigrated from Russia. In adolescence, the young man got a job in the publication Look – an ordinary office employee who dreams of more. There he met Stanley Kubrick (who started as a photographer), a close friendship developed between them. Famous shots for the film “Lolita” later did exactly Stern.
At the same time, Berta was introduced to Hershal Bramson, artistic director of Flair. He invited a young photographer, who has no experience in advertising, to become his assistant. Then there was the post of art director at Mayfair and the beginning of the occupation of photography. Stern’s career developed rapidly, but it had to be interrupted during the Korean War. In 1950, Stern was drafted into the army, and he went to Tokyo to work at a military photo department. Returning to the US, he briefly worked at Fashion & Travel, from where, being uncertain about the future, he left for Lawrence C.Gumbinner.In the second half of the 60s, Stern was a successful American photographer, he earned a lot and worked extremely hard. In his studio, he made prestigious advertising projects and photos for fashion magazines, but did not put the process on commercial footing, but treated him very creatively. Successful business and marriage with Allegra Kent (the dancer and Bert have three children), suddenly collapsed.
Due to stress, the photographer began taking amphetamines and was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. “Breaking”, Stern loaded his property into a freight container and, leaving everything behind, left the United States for Spain. His marriage broke up, forgotten about him magazines and advertising agencies. Only a few years later Stern was able to return to work, published a book of his works (later sold about 20 million copies of it) and began photographing again.
Bert returned to the USA and began to rebuild his life. In 1982, he published photographs of Marilyn Monroe, who had never seen the light before, and a year later he got acquainted with the future muse and love of Shannah Lomeister.
He took many photos of the girl, and shortly before Stern’s death, they switched roles. Lomeister became Bertha’s photo and film biographer, and shot it until the last days. Stern died in Manhattan at the age of 83, leaving a grandiose heritage and memory of his outstanding personality and great talent.