Marilyn Monroe, 60 years without the myth born from the camera

Here we talk about Marilyn Monroe, but this post begins with the war and ends with the war, it must be said immediately. Exactly 60 years ago Marilyn Monroe left this world after a seemingly glittering but – now we know – life full of shadows and ghosts. Her path is also, perhaps above all, a huge photo album – and what photographs! While, still unknown, 19-year-old Norma Jeane works in a military aircraft factory in 1945, she is portrayed by the photographer David Conover who creates images of “girls who keep up the morale of the troops at the front”: a photo of Norma is published in the magazine Yank and she was elected “Miss Flamethrower”. A short time later the girl, who at that point aspires to become a model, ends up in the lens of the fashion photographer André de Dienesand one of these images appears on the cover of Family Circle; with this magazine he signed his first contract and his photos began to appear all over the world, even in film magazines. Evidently those images already have an aura and that smile catches the eye.

From here to the cinema the step is short, albeit with initially minor parts. And then the rise, unstoppable, as an icon, as a star, as a forbidden dream, as a flag. A professional rise in parallel with his own descent personal. This whole journey is marked by a complicity with the greatest photographers in the world, who with their hypersensitive antennas feel its iconic power, are attracted to something that maybe they don’t understand but for this very reason they want to dig and find. On the set and off the set, in public and private moments, there remain sometimes legendary photos of Elliott Erwitt, Inge Morath, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Philippe Halsman, Eve Arnold, Douglas Kirkland (very famous his photos with Marilyn naked between silk sheets shot from above) and many others.

Bert Stern the photographer, exclusively for Vogue, in June 1962; we are in a suite of the Bel-Air hotel in Los Angeles, where over 2,500 shots are made, which will then also end up in the book The last setting. That last was not, since only in recent years has a service made in July of that year materialized (and immediately sold at auction) by George Barris. And in the same month too Allan Grant portrays her for Life. But the photograph of Monroe that has always struck me most is a portrait of Richard Avedon: she appears explosive in the body in a tight and low-cut dress that looks rather sad, lost and depressed in the face. With hindsight you seem to be able to see a seer in Avedon and in her portraits this “entelechy” is often caught.

If in those mythical years the great stars were born and consecrated were photography and photographers (in Europe we think of Brigitte Bardot, for example), still in the 80s some stars were born skilfully riding the media force of perfectly fitting images to the character, to name one: Madonna. But now? Now that magazines are dying? Now that the card doesn’t sing? What questions! Now there is the network, there are social networks. But it is no longer, in these places of the possible and the impossible, that great photography has a charismatic role. Instead, the situationism, which when it is photographic is often a selfie (ask Salvini for instructions). Until the great photographer, ousted from the publishing market, suddenly returns to illuminate the pages of Vogue with the star of the moment: no longer Marilyn Monroe, no longer Brigitte Bardot, no longer Madonna, but Zelensky and his wife in a glamorous version.

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