A Marilyn Monroe Lithograph by Bert Stern


From the book The Last Sitting:

“Everybody was working: Kenneth combing Marilyn’s hair, Babs arranging a string of pearls around her neck. I was way up there in the dark, looking down on her lying there with her hair spread out.

Marilyn-Monroe-Bert-Stern-1Marilyn was a little pensive, and I wanted her laughing, alive. So I said, “Could someone turn her on, please?” Babs offered her some champagne.

“No, no,” I called down. “She can’t move out of that position. Talk to her.  Pat, talk to her.”

Pat said to Marilyn, “What about those two loves in your life?” Marilyn started to giggle.

I didn’t know who Marilyn’s lovers were but she obviously enjoyed thinking about them. She was laughing, looking over at Pat, and I said, “That’s great! But look up here, at the camera.” And to draw her attention to me, I said, “How about those two men…”

She was on, and the strobes were clicking, and the light was bouncing around, tinkling down, Kenneth came over with a handful of sparkle and scattered it in her hair. The pearls were around her neck, and she was laughing, free. And I whispered to myself, “Boy…how far out…” I really had her. The light was just right. Everything began to move a little faster.

It was coming – the moment I was looking for.

A lot of pictures I take are not the real picture. They’re the picture before the picture, the picture leading up to the picture –and then I get the picture. I see it through the lens as I’m shooting and I know it’s the one. Exactly how I see it depends on the camera. On the Nikon and the Hasselblad you’re looking right through the lens, so the shutter goes black when the actual picture is taken. On those cameras I don’t see the picture itself. I keep shooting right up to that instant when I feel, I know, it’s about to happen. Then I push the button and on that black space I project the picture. The Rolleiflex doesn’t do that, because it has a twin lens. But then you don’t see the actual picture either, because you’re seeing through the upper lens, and the angle’s slightly different.

Either way, you never see the picture that you’re taking. At that perfect moment you just have to close your eyes and jump. And when that moment comes, it’s a zillionth of a second. It will never be repeated again, it could take all eternity to get it back. You have to grab it.

Looking down at Marilyn, I could see it happening. I was entering that space where everything is silent but the clicking of the strobes. She was tossing her head, laughing, and her arm was up, like waving goodbye.

I saw what I wanted, I pressed the button, and she was mine.

It was the last picture.”