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Bert Stern

His iconic ‘last sitting’ with Marilyn Monroe immortalized the star just weeks before her death

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Bert Stern

His pictures of Marilyn Monroe were some of the last even taken and his commercial work was some of the first to innovate the advertising image. Bert Stern (1929–2013) was an American photographer whose career was built on endings and beginnings. His iconic ‘last sitting’ with Marilyn Monroe immortalized the star just weeks before her death and his work amongst the real Mad Men of New York changed the way images worked in advertising.

Stern grew up in Brooklyn and cut his teeth at Flair and Look magazines, where he met and befriended Stanley Kubrick, who he would later shoot the iconic image of Sue Lyon as Lolita for. In 1955 he landed his first major assignment with a Madison Avenue advertising agency for Smirnoff Vodka. Depicting a close-up of a martini glass in the Egyptian desert, pyramid shimmering in the background, the picture was groundbreaking, shocking even, in its simplicity. Prior to Stern’s work imagery in magazine advertisements was used mostly to illustrate text. Stern ushered in a new era of advertising, where photographic images began to communicate much more elusive and seductive messages to consumers.

As well as product shoots, Stern was also known for his celebrity portraiture. He photographed Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, Sophia Loren, and Brigitte Bardot, and was also invited to Rome by Twentieth Century Fox to photograph Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra. Becoming a regular contributor at Vogue, with relative freedom, Stern designed the shoot that would cement his fame. A collection of 2,500 photographs taken over a three-day period, The Last Sitting captured Marilyn nude, draped in scarves, pearls, paper flowers and bedsheets in a suite at the Bel-Air Hotel.

TASCHEN Books has synthesized Stern’s extraordinary images with extracts from Norman Mailer’s biography of Monroe to create an astounding portrait of the eternal movie star.