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American fashion photographer Bert Stern (1929-2013), along with Richard Avedon and Irving Penn are known as a key figure in modern photographic history. After joining the US Army to become a photographer based in Japan he returned to America where his career would begin to flourish. His fashion and advertising pictures were emblematic of the golden age of magazines and stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn to as recent as Kate Moss and Madonna.

Today we look at a shoot between Stern and French icon Catherine Deneuve. It was 1966. Deneuve had recently starred in Roman Polanski’s film Repulsion the year before. She was married to British photographer David Bailey, one that would end in divorce by 1972, after 7 years. Deneuve had appeared in Playboy twice and numerous spreads in Vogue. This is the making of one of these shoots extracted from The Photo Illustration: A Restless Man’s Rewards for Creating Images From Ideas by Bert Stern.

Hystron Fibres wanted an eight-page section in Vogue to promote an expensive Trevira fabric in a way that would make readers want it and the clothes made of it. The agency handed Stern a model – French actress Catherine Deneuve – and some clothes made of the fabric. His first attempt at simply, beautiful pictures of Deneuve in New York failed. The clothes did not fit a body shorter than Vogue was used to; Deneuve disliked them and reportedly had a tantrum. Almost giving up, Stern noticed a star-like shape in the fabric and imagined an exotic spread with stars sprinkled through multiple images of Deneuve from the neck up. At a second attempt in Paris, he lined up his tools, including a videotape at the client’s request, so the session might be shown to department stores. While doodling on a notepad in a studio, waiting for a tardy Deneuve to show up, that he got his pictures. That was only the beginning. Back in New York, fearing his original images would deteriorate if they went through the many generations of duplicates that a printer would have to make to achieve his design, Stern tackled most of the effects in his studio. He shot multiple exposures of his own originals, positioned star masks on a layout, gave the printer a nearly final version of the end product, and then fought for letter-press plates instead of offset to overcome reproduction problems peculiar to this set of images. When they appeared in Vogue, he said, “It’s not as chic as we planned it.” But then he overheard a girl with a yo-yo say in a coffee shop, “Boy, I really love those Catherine Deneuves.” A laugh from Stern, “It appealed to the baser feelings of people.”


PS I have included a detailed description and diagram of how Stern set up his shot for the photographic enthusiast out there. They are all from his book and are a rare glimpse into these almost forgotten photographs. More from this fascinating book to come on curate!


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