Dennis Stock, 81; Magnum photographer shot iconic moments
By T. Rees Shapiro
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Dennis Stock, 81, a celebrated photographer who helped immortalize
Hollywood stars such as James Dean, captured the tension and mood of
jazz musicians in their smoky habitat and catalogued the rebellious
1960s counterculture of bikers and hippies, died Jan. 11 at his home
in Sarasota, Fla.
Magnum, the photographers' co-operative agency where Mr. Stock spent
much of his career, confirmed the death but did not provide further details.
Working to create an "articulate image," Mr. Stock once said he
wanted his photos to portray "an attitude of childlike discovery into
adult existence." He published dozens of books and had exhibitions in
the world's prestigious art galleries, including the International
Center of Photography in New York, the National Gallery of Art in
Washington, the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris and the Schirn
Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.
Early in his career, he was Magnum's representative in Hollywood and
specialized in trying to find unguarded moments in the lives of
actors and artists who were used to the careful orchestration of publicity.
He caught trumpeter Louis Armstrong back stage at a concert in his
underwear, actor Marlon Brando relaxing in his Napoleon wardrobe on
the set of "Desirée" (1954), actress Audrey Hepburn in a moment of
reflection as she stares out a car window, and actor James Dean
looking into the camera while lying in a coffin, as if trying it on for size.
His relationship with Dean inspired some of his most enduring work.
In 1955, he accompanied the actor on a road trip back to his home
town in Fairmount, Ind., and took pictures of Dean standing in a
pigsty, posing in front of a tractor, eating at his family's dinner
table and sitting, oddly uncomfortable, in his old classroom.
Dean, the photographer later recalled, "wasn't a drinker. He smoked a
lot, but everyone did in those days. What he was was an insomniac. He
went to parties because he couldn't sleep."
One of Mr. Stock's best known images showed Dean walking in the rain
in New York's Times Square, shoulders hunched to the elements and
with a cigarette dangling from his lips. The picture, published in
Life magazine and reproduced many times, was credited with defining
1950s cool and immortalizing the actor, who died soon after in a car wreck.
"I've never taken an assignment," Mr. Stock said last year during an
address to photojournalism students at the University of Texas. "I've
always photographed what I wanted to be photographing, and then
worried about selling the pictures or doing something with them
afterwards. I've always shot for myself, and when you're shooting
what you're interested in shooting, you're always going to be happy."
Mr. Stock was born July 24, 1928, in the Bronx, N.Y., to an English
mother and a Swiss father. During the Depression, he told the London
Independent newspaper in 2004, "life went from OK to horrible. We
moved seven times. Sometimes we lived in cold-water flats, sometimes
in flats where the whole floor was heated by a single pot-bellied stove."
After his father's death, he left home at 17 and joined the Navy
during World War II. He then moved back to New York and became a
photographer's apprentice, studying for a short while at the New
School for Social Research under the eye of Berenice Abbott.
He worked for photo luminaries such as W. Eugene Smith and Gjon Mili,
whom he called "a brilliant Albanian photographer who's unfairly
forgotten. He did a lot of ballet and jazz work. He used Rembrandt
lighting and black backgrounds."
Studying under Mili influenced Mr. Stock's pictures in the late 1950s
of jazz musicians such as Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis,
Duke Ellington and Earl "Fatha" Hines.
The pivotal moment of Mr. Stock's early career came in 1951, when he
won the top prize of a Life competition for young photographers. His
winning image was a Lewis Hine-inspired photo of East German
immigrants arriving in New York's harbor. Mr. Stock was invited by
photojournalist Robert Capa to join Magnum.
Mr. Stock was married several times, a Magnum spokeswoman said, and
survivors include his wife, writer Susan Richards of Sarasota and
Woodstock, N.Y.; three children; a grandson; and five
great-grandchildren. In 1958. Mr. Stock was reportedly engaged to
Kate Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Stock embedded with motorcycle gangs and
followed hippies to concerts. One of his iconic images of the era is
of a dancer's swinging blond hair at the Venice Beach (Calif.) Rock
Festival in 1968.
In his later career, Mr. Stock often focused his work on natural
light and landscapes. One of his favorite shots, of a shady tree in a
sea of lavender, appeared on the cover of his 1988 book, "Provence Memories."
He said he moved to Provence, France, in the 1970s to photograph the
famous sunbathed countryside and pay homage to the painters who had
been enamored with the area in the past. "I like its invitational
nature," he told the London Guardian. "I'm offended by the word
'pretty,' but it is serene, and we're all seeking that."