Bert Stern’s career exemplifies the concept of the commercial photographer as a cultural hero. Money, power, and celebrity have made him almost as much of an icon as the famous faces he has photographed. He has become the prototype of the fashion photographer as the embodiment of glamour.
Stern’s photography career happened almost as a fluke. Working as a messenger and mail clerk at Look magazine in 1947, Art Director Herschel Bramson, recognizing something special, encouraged Stern to study art books at the library, and visit the Museum of Modern Art. But it was Irving Penn’s work that really galvanized Stern’s desire to be a photographer.
Drafted during the Korean War, Stern photographed the troops’ ships heading to Japan. These later became his first published photographs. Upon his return to the United States, Stern explored advertising photography, and achieved success with his work for Smirnoff Vodka, including one of the most famous images: A Giza pyramid reflected upside down in a martini glass.
Bert Stern went on to photograph for Vogue, and married Allegra Kent, a principal dancer with the New York Ballet. These events expanded his interest in shooting the arts, and he began to concentrate his efforts on fashion and celebrity portraiture.
He photographed young actress Sue Lyon for the film “Lolita,” worked with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Cleopatra,” and photographed other screen icons such as Lucille Ball and Goldie Hawn. Stern also shot three sessions with Marilyn Monroe for Vogue magazine in late June 1962, six weeks before her death, which later became the iconic “Last Sitting.”
Bert Stern’s photography has been exhibited all over the world, including Toyko, London, and New York.