Marilyn Monroe Bert Stern Serigraph Black Light, 1968
Vintage serigraph prints (8) , by Bert Stern, printed in 1968
Marilyn Monroe silkscreen serigraph, by Bert SternSize: 10″½ x 11″
Bert Stern, a self-taught photographer who created high-concept images for advertising in the 1950s, made a renowned jazz film and captured Marilyn Monroe in a revealing series of photographs weeks before her death, died June 25 at his home in New York City. He was 83.
Shannah Laumeister, a filmmaker who made a documentary about Mr. Stern in 2011, confirmed his death to the Associated Press but did not indicate the cause. She was his companion and said they were secretly married in 2009.
With his highly polished images for magazine stories and advertising campaigns, Mr. Stern became one of the most renowned photographers of his era.
When he began his career, he said, he didn’t know how to read a light meter. But by the mid-1950s, with his memorable images for Smirnoff vodka, Mr. Stern was transforming advertising photography from utilitarian snapshots to something more conceptual and self-consciously artistic.
“I don’t consider myself a photographer,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “I’m a designer with a camera.”
Beginning with a simple slogan — “The driest of the dry” — Mr. Stern searched for innovative ways to illustrate a vodka martini for Smirnoff. He depicted men in dark suits sitting amid sand dunes, holding martinis in their hands. He photographed a camel walking down New York’s Fifth Avenue.
For his most striking image, he traveled to Egypt and placed a martini glass in the sand, with the Great Pyramid of Giza towering behind it. The tip of the pyramid, suffused in a pinkish-gold light, is refracted upside down in the liquid inside the glass.
In Laumeister’s 2011 documentary, “Bert Stern: Original Mad Man,” acclaimed designer George Lois said Mr. Stern’s advertising photographs were “breathtaking because they were ideas.”
His images were credited with helping bring about advertising’s “creative revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s, portrayed in the AMC series “Mad Men.”
Determined to produce a movie before he turned 30, Mr. Stern took film cameras to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. His original idea of making a feature film with a story line and dialogue didn’t pan out, but the resulting documentary, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” is considered a landmark.
The film mixes crowd scenes and images of sailboats with performances of musicians such as Anita O’Day, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, Gerry Mulligan and Louis Armstrong. Mr. Stern often said he didn’t know much about music, and jazz aficionados have suggested that his co-director, Aram Avakian, was responsible for filming and editing most of the concert footage.
Nonetheless, the film itself is a triumph. “ ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’ is the best film ever done on jazz,” Newport festival founder George Wein said.
Beyond advertising and film, B. Stern was in constant demand for his portraits, including film stars Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Marlon Brando and 1950s supermodel Suzy Parker. He photographed teen actress Sue Lyon wearing heart-shaped sunglasses for the 1962 film “Lolita.” He went to Rome to shoot photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton while they were making “Cleopatra” and beginning a torrid love affair.