Words: Joanne Glasbey
‘We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle,’ Marilyn Monroe breathily proclaimed. To many, she not only shone, she illuminated constellations and made supernova glow bright. As she was one of the most photographed women in the world, it’s perhaps unsurprising, 53 years on from her untimely death, that we are still being presented with unseen images of her. Some of these can be viewed at a new exhibition of Monroe pictures, called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by two celebrated American photographers, which opens next month at Chelsea’s Little Black Gallery.
New Yorker Milton H Greene, whose work in the 1950s and 60s was published in the likes of Life, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, was part of the eminent group of photographers that included Avedon, Beaton, Penn and Parkinson, who elevated fashion photography to an art form. Greene first met Monroe in 1953 on an assignment for Look magazine. Three years later, they formed Marilyn Monroe Productions together, producing Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl, in which she starred with Laurence Olivier. Their collaboration resulted in Greene shooting Monroe in more than 52 different sittings, producing over 5,000 images.
Toronto-born photographer Douglas Kirkland worked for both Look and Life during the 1960s and 70s, and shot on the sets of more than 100 well-known mainstream movies. His images are in permanent collections and have been exhibited all over the world. When Kirkland was just 27, he lucked out – and certainly didn’t get the fuzzy end of the lollipop – when Monroe teasingly invited him to photograph her in bed. The sensual results were presented as the intimate series An Evening with Marilyn Monroe and featured the glamorous film star draped in just a white silk sheet and, presumably, her favourite Chanel No.5 perfume.
The exhibition showcases well-loved as well as previously unknown portraits of the enigmatic Monroe by these two celebrated snappers, documenting further the luminosity and shadows she cast throughout her stellar life.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe, by Milton H Greene and Douglas Kirkland, is at The Little Black Gallery, 13a Park Walk, London SW10 0AJ from 19 January to 27 February 2016. High-quality prints of both photographers’ works are available from the Gallery, from £1,000-8,000
©Douglas Kirkland 1961; Milton H Greene/Archive Images