final photo session
I admit it: I have a bit of a thing for Marilyn Monroe. Not the kind of obsession that some people have with her life and, weirdly, her mysterious death. I have never been an avid fan of her films: she was a great character actor, whose ability was criminally underused by most of her directors. I never had that classic pouting headshot as a poster on my wall as a kid. I just think she was a great looking woman, indicative of an era that still manages to captivate.
She, and her legacy, has managed to stand out as a timeless pop culture icon, when these days anyone with a cell phone camera and a duck face is considered glamourous and indeed as a sex symbol in her own time that seemed puritan by today’s standards.
In my life, particularly during my burgeoning adolescence, her most defining contribution to my appreciation of beauty, was her Last Sitting photo session, with photographer Bert Stern for Vogue magazine. The session was done six weeks before her untimely death on 5 August 1962, and the fruits of the Last Sitting set were some of Marilyn’s most evocative, most honest and, without doubt, her sexiest, photos.
Taken in context, the images – shot brightly in soft focus with simple white backgrounds in typically (for the time) glamourous fashion – are tragic, and in some photos, Marilyn does look older than she was: lost, tired, seemingly giving up on life while putting on a brave face. Yet there is something so naturally sexy about this vulnerability she shows in the pictures. Even more attractive though, particularly in the many nude and semi-nude shots, complete with blemishes, make-up smudges around an unsure mouth, and the start of wrinkles around her tired eyes, is a complete open honesty that makes the fifty years of glamour photography ever since seem just a little too perfect.
Of all the photos of Marilyn, and there are many, these Last Sitting pictures encapsulate her at the most imperfect, the most vulnerable. A natural beauty, lost girl-child, a burgeoning older woman and sad, sex goddess, all in one space.
A couple of years ago, Stern returned to this iconic setting, with a nostalgic cover version of the Last session featuring “actress” Lindsay Lohan – whose own life and career has mirrored that of Monroe’s, though with much more public glare and altogether more tastelessness. While Lohan is a good looking woman, in a sort of So-Cal surfer girl with bleach issues kind of way, the Lohan photos are a little too stylised, and have none of the spontaneity of the originals.
As the world remembers the death of Marilyn Monroe, fifty years ago, and celebrate her beauty and life through her films, her voice, her humour and her classic glamourous sexiness that has somehow been lost along the way by thousands of over saturated, over scrubbed and overPhotoshopped imitations, let’s have another look at her Last Sitting and realise that the gods don’t make em like they used to.