By Ingrid Garcia
Photography by Katherine Perks
Model: Leslie Scherger
In a University of Texas auditorium full of photography students, Professor Dennis Darling played a documentary that exposed me to world-renowned photographer, Bert Stern. His opening quote, “Women are everything. Man is just a muscle” glued my ears to the screen, while his photography kept my eyes transfixed.The Original Madman documentary, directed by his wife, Shannah Laumeister, narrates the start of his career as a mailroom boy at Look Magazine. The screen jumps to a new scene, one that shows the fashion photographer living an extravagant New York lifestyle. His timeless photos of models and actresses project onto the screen, and I couldn’t keep my jaw from dropping — these are such classic shots. With alluring women like Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn gazing into the camera, Stern captures his favorite subject(s) in a way that’s easy to admire, and a reason to be celebrated.
June 26th marks the five-year anniversary of the death of Bert Stern. He was a true contributor to modern advertising and photography as we know it today. Stern’s first professional assignment was an advertisement for Smirnoff Vodka, and even then he proved that anything could be a prop. With the background of the Great Pyramid of Giza, a glass of Smirnoff glistens in the rose-tinted sunlight. The ad’s caption “the driest of the dry” makes you simultaneously aware that you are in awe and, in fact, drooling. In 1955, he redefined how alcoholic beverages would be publicized. Later, he would take on the fashion world.
Vogue contracted Stern and required him to fill 100 fashion pages a year, with an additional 10 pages for personal projects. His greatest celebrated work comes from those pages of Vogue in 1962, entitled The Last Sitting; it was a three-day photo shoot with a sometimes nude, sometimes immaculately-dressed Marilyn Monroe, taken 6 weeks before her death.Perhaps the shoot that caught my creative eye the most is his work with Golden Globe winner Sue Lyon in her performance as Lolita. Back when Stern was working for Look Magazine, he befriended Stanley Kubrick, for whom Stern would go on to work as set photographer in Lolita. Stern beautifully captured Lyon’s playful attitude, with his photographs making the film’s poster. With her red heart-shaped sunglasses, vintage car, and a red lollipop, Lyon’s youth and innocence are maintained forever on film. Inspired by this very photo shoot, the Spark Online team (photographer Katherine Perks and model Leslie Scherger) recreated the shots of Lyon’s bare face and careless, summer attitude.Bert Stern’s happy place is behind the camera. In the Original Madman, Stern expresses feeling uneasy in front of the camera, but he’s less than discreet when revealing intimate details about his personal life to his audience. After such a demanding profession, Stern revealed his addiction to amphetamines, resulting in a crumbled marriage with his first wife, the legendary ballerina, Allegra Kent. After leaving to Spain to defeat his addiction, Stern returned to New York and continued to shoot personalities such as Madonna and Kate Moss throughout the 80s and 90s.
Stern was unafraid to break the rules, and he sure lived a life without them. His documentary characterized Stern as a true and fascinating talent that we celebrate today, and his work will continue to inspire the creatives. •
Ingrid Garcia is a 3rd-year Broadcast Journalism major from Laredo, Texas. Her strongest desires include reporting investigative, political, and breaking news at local, national, and international levels. When she’s not on deadline or tweeting about the news, she can be found running, taking photos, or adventuring around Austin.