stocks-photography

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In a recent post we profiled some of the work of renowned photographer Philippe Halsman from his special assignment covering Julie on the set of Hawaii for Look Magazine.  As stated, it was a sure sign of Julie’s newly minted superstar status that a photographer of Halsman’s standing was dispatched all the way to the Hawaiian islands to shoot her on location.

Halsman was not, however, the only cameraman of note to journey across the Pacific to photograph Julie in the summer of ‘65. Indeed, Hawaii – which is currently celebrating its 50th Golden Anniversary here in The Parallel Julieverse – was such an important ‘event’ picture that Mirisch Corporation-United Artists contracted not one but two ‘official’ production photographers to chronicle the film, and not just anyone but two of the biggest names in the business.

The principal staff photographer for Hawaii was Al St Hilaire who started his career at MGM in the 1930s as assistant to the great Ruth Harriet Louise, before being taken on as protege cum heir apparent to the studio’s legendary ‘master of glamour’, George Hurrell (Dance and Robertson, 78ff; Vieira, 52ff). In a career spanning many decades, St Hilaire worked on countless films and worked with many of the biggest stars from Marlene Dietrich, Veronica Lake and Jennifer Jones to Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, becoming in the process one of the most sought after 'industry photographers’ in Hollywood.

As staff cameraman for Hawaii, St Hilaire was charged with taking most of the ‘official’ stills and portraits used to promote the film in advertising, posters and lobby cards. By all accounts, he loved working with Julie and, at her request, would later return as one of the unit photographers on Star! (1968), a film for which he even coaxed former ‘boss’ George Hurrell from retirement (”Man,” 12). “Julie’s very easy on the set,” St Hilaire remarked, “You go and ask her a question, and you get a direct yes or no. Very seldom no, but if it is no, you know that what you asked was impossible" (”Sound”, 19).

Alongside St Hilaire as staff photographer, the producers also commissioned a further series of special photographs from acclaimed freelance cameraman, Dennis Stock. A pioneering member of the influential Magnum Photos cooperative, Stock rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s as a chronicler of the post-war counterculture, celebrated for his quirky neo-realist portraits of jazz musicians and other cult icons of the era, notably James Dean. Unlike St Hilaire’s brand of handsome but thoroughly traditional glamour photography, Stock was the embodiment of new wave cool, an advocate of formal experimentation and playful spontaneity. “You approach subject-matter,” he declared, “with two attitudes. One is preconception, which gets you there physically, and the other is improvisation, which allows you to discover” (Clark, 86).

Contracted as a freelancer, Stock was afforded carte blanche to shoot more or less what he liked on the set of Hawaii. Some of his images were straightforward publicity portraits and/or candid celebrity shots for magazine publication, however the maverick photographer also let loose with a series of more stylized images as well. As seen in the representative sample of his Hawaii work above, many of Stock’s photos indulged his passion for atmospheric filters, saturated colours, and multiple exposures. While others – notably his ‘star’ portraits here of Julie and von Sydow – revealed his penchant for odd angles and forced perspective. Never though you’d see up inside Julie Andrews’ famed nose? Well, you have now! Stock would also produce a series of faux nineteenth-century tintypes that we will profile in a follow-up post.

That Hawaii should have engaged the services of two such markedly contrasting photographers as Al St Hilaire and Dennis Stock serves as something of a neat metaphor for the film’s bifurcated production context and, in particular, its historical position at the crossroads of the old and new Hollywoods. A big screen epic of melodramatic sweep, star-driven spectacle, and lavish production values, Hawaii was clearly classic Hollywood entertainment of the old school kind but it also embraced a contrasting sixties modernist ethos with its budding auteurist director, cast of mostly European leads, anti-heroic protagonist, and political critique of establishment religion and US colonialism. It’s why the film proved so perplexing to many critics on its release but also why, relative to many other vintage epics, it continues to play well today.

If Al St Hilaire was the photographic standard bearer of old guard Hollywood on the set of Hawaii, Dennis Stock was the impish chronicler of the new.

Sources:

Clark, David. Photography in 100 words: Exploring the Art of Photography with Fifty of its Greatest Masters. Waltham: Focal Press, 2009.

Dance, Robert and Robertson, Bruce. Ruth Harriet Louise and Hollywood Glamour Photography. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

“Man Who Started Glamor Photography: Camera Ace Returns to Star!.” The TV Journal. 15-21 June 1968: 12.

“The Sound of Julie.” Woman. 22 June 1968: 14-22.

Stock, Dennis. “An Interpretation of James Michener’s Hawaii in Photos.” Look. 3: 6, 6 September 1966: 48-54.

Vieira, Mark A. George Hurrell’s Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925-1992. London and Philadelphia: Running Press, 2013.

© 2016, Brett Farmer. All Rights Reserved.