Bert Stern was an American photographer best known for his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe. With a photo shoot that took place in 1962 just weeks before the actress’ death, Stern later compiled his image into the photobook Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting, first published in 1982.

Born on October 3, 1929 in Brooklyn, NY, Stern taught himself how to take photographs as a youth. Over the course of his career, Stern changed the landscape of fashion and advertising photography by creating dynamic, stand-alone images that no longer existed simply to serve the text. He emerged alongside Richard Avedon, Mark Shaw, and Irving Penn as a pioneer of this new, confrontational style.

Stern died at the age of 83 on June 26, 2013 in New York, NY. Notable exhibitions of his work include “I Wanna Be Loved By You: Photographs of Marilyn Monroe” shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and “The Last Sitting” at the Musee Maillol in Paris.

Bert Stern

Artist Biography

Bert Stern was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1947 and at the age of seventeen, Stern took a job as a messenger and clerk in the mailroom of Look Magazine. Art Director Herschel Bramson recognized his talents and encouraged him to pursue a photography career. After learning as much as he could about art history, Stern left to become the art director at Mayfairmagazine, where he started taking his first photographs. He was drafted in 1951 and talked his way into an army job as a motion picture cameraman in Japan.

After being released from the army in 1953, Stern was hired to photograph the print advertisements for Smirnoff Vodka. These images were considered to be a striking breakthrough in style, as they looked more like editorial photography than advertising. Utilizing a huge and lavishly equipped studio, Stern experimented with many unconventional techniques, including videotape, screen-printing, photo-offset combinations and computerized printouts. He continued to photograph the advertising campaigns for brands such as Canon, Dupont, Pepsi-Cola, US Steel, and Volkswagen. His work appeared in VOGUE magazine and other publications throughout the 1960’s and he was recognized as the prototype of the fashion photographer as media star, with his images of models and celebrities becoming icons for the next generation of fashion photographers.

Stern’s best-known body of work is a collection of over 2,500 photographs taken of Marilyn Monroe over a three-day period six weeks before her death. As they were the last posed photographs taken of Monroe, the portfolio has come to be known as “The Last Sitting”. The photographs were commissioned by VOGUE magazine, and several of the images appeared in a commemorative issue following Monroe’s sudden death. A book containing these photographs, including copies of proofs over which Monroe had written comments or crossed her own image out with lipstick, was published in 1992 as Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting.

In 2011, the feature-length documentary Bert Stern: Original Mad Man was released, in which Stern spoke candidly about the joys and tribulations of his career as a photographer.

Bert Stern died in 2013.