Marilyn at Magnum: Portraits in Action

Photographer Eve Arnold’s estate are currently offering this classic image of Marilyn between the sheets (a publicity shot for The Misfits) as a 16×20″ poster, digitally remastered by bespoke printer Danny Pope – see here. The poster is priced at a very reasonable £30, with all profits donated to UNICEF for the remainder of 2021.

Eve was Marilyn’s most frequent collaborator from the Magnum Photos agency. During the golden age of photojournalism, Magnum cast a more humanistic light on the idols of cinema – including Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Fonda and James Dean. In a post for the Magnum blog, Laura Havlin looks back on Eve’s photos of Marilyn on her 1955 publicity jaunt to Bement, Illinois (see here.)

“In a text from 1978 reflecting on her work from the 1950s, Eve Arnold admits she found ‘portraiture perhaps the most difficult part of photography.’ To prevent the standard ‘mug shot’ and to get at what she found most interesting about the person – that which lay beneath the surface – she experimented with what she called a ‘portrait-in-action,’ where ‘the subject is absorbed in some activity or is shown against a background that interests [her].’  She tried to do this with Marilyn Monroe … She writes of Marilyn that ‘posing was a game she played with abandon and delight, drawing the other player, the photographer, into it with a silent but ever increasing psychic pressure’ … The portraits of Marilyn demonstrate Arnold’s dictum that ‘photographs are not made in a vacuum: the person before the lens is inseparable from the process.’ In her shooting sessions with the actress, she writes of Marilyn that ‘no word would be spoken, but she had made the connection, a tenuous thread that the photographer grasped, an umbilical cord that was sensitive, silent and tough.'”

Another of Marilyn’s notable Magnum photographers was Philippe Halsman, who put her on the cover of LIFE magazine with a colour shot from his famous ‘Jump!’ series in 1959. However, this image dates back to an earlier session in New York, on the day after Marilyn filmed the historic ‘subway scene’ for The Seven Year Itch in 1954. Other stars who ‘jumped’ for Halsman at the time included Lena Horne, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Grace Kelly.

“‘Jumpology’, a term coined by Halsman, posits that a person’s jump can reveal their true character. He realized this while looking back on a series of photographs he had taken of several NBC comedy actors. ‘Suddenly, I saw in these finished photographs that each comedian had jumped in character’ … From then on, Halsman asked many of his portrait subjects to jump in the hope of revealing their personalities, a device he employed when photographing some of the biggest movie stars of all time. With this ploy he captured unusually playful images of the likes of Gina Lollobrigida, Olivia de Havilland, Sophie Loren, and Audrey Hepburn. This body of work would become a book the book Jump, one of many classics still in print.”