Dennis Stock, 81

Dennis Stock, 81; Magnum photographer shot iconic moments

Dennis Stock, an American photographer who made iconic images of James Dean -- and other Hollywood actors -- has died at 81. Stock joined the Magnum Photo agency in 1951, becoming a full member in 1954. Here are some of the memorable photographs from his long career.
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."

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