AUDREY HEPBURN AND MEL FERRER BY BERT STERN, VOGUE, 1963.
In 1963, under the direction of editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, Bert Stern was given the task to photograph Audrey Hepburn and her then husband Mel Ferrer (married 1954 – 1968) for Vogue Magazine. It was Diana Vreeland’s first year as editor-in-chief at the magazine.
The extracts below are taken from the 1963 editorial of Vogue and 1974’s Masters of Contemporary Photography – The Photo Illustration: A Restless Man’s Rewards for Creating Images from Ideas by Bert Stern.
“Audrey, look at me,” instructs photographer Bert Stern. And that was the picture [on the cover]. As soon as her eyes turned towards the camera, another plane popped out of the surface. Ferrer concentrates on her, she concentrates on the camera, and the result pulls the viewer in. The austerity of Stern’s approach to a subject reflects an opinion he shares with the great architect Mies van der Rohe: less is more,” Stern says, “is far worse than not doing enough. I’ll hire a certain hair stylist just because he won’t overdo things. And I try not to heavy-hand my relationship with the subject. It’s a personal relationship, after all, and those are complex enough as is.”
A portrait of one person is a challenge – especially if the person is a celebrity – but the complexities of an assignment calling for two celebrities in a single picture constitute more than twice the challenge. One solution to problems of ego and composition is to give each individual equal prominence – the same lighting and equal space in the frame. The danger of playing it so safe is the chance of an unexciting picture. Stern’s photographs of Hepburn and Ferrer demonstrate a way to solve this problem. First of all, he kept the lighting as simple as possible. A clean white backdrop was evenly illuminated by a strobe-umbrella combination on both sides. His placement of the key-light to the left of the camera was set a couple of feet above the subjects heads at a conventional 45-degree angle. Stern made Audrey dominate the picture by telling her to look at the camera. He also favoured her with the key-light. Distaining the soft light most photographers would have used for a woman, Stern hit her with a direct strobe. But he compensated for that hard light by using a white bounce board at a slight angle almost directly behind her, so that her neck and back came up in light value to an almost shadow-less high key. She acted as a human gobo by blocking the bounce light from filling in the shadows on her husband’s face.”
“On screen and off, Audrey Hepburn has dressed at Givenchy since her movie Sabrina in 1954. “When I first went to Hubert, I was still in homemade dresses,” says Hepburn. Located at Givenchy’s Paris atelier, the designer presented the Hollywood couple a grand collection for the shoot. “I want to make some dream choices for Vogue…as if I were in a candy store” declared Miss Hepburn. For two hours she tried on fifty outfits before the team decided on a final selection.”
OUT-TAKES FROM THE SHOOT