Dennis Stock is one of the most iconic photographers of our time. Unfortunately we lost another legend as Dennis passed away this morning. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, here is an image almost everyone has seen at some point and time:
First of all, all images in this post are used without any particular permission other than fair use, and will be taken down if requested to do so. All images are copyright Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos.
Dennis was more than a legendary photographer to me. To me he was also a friend and valued mentor. I first met Dennis about 3 years ago when he came to speak at the University of Texas. I knew of the Dean image and asked Eli if there was any way I could meet Dennis outside of the presentation. Eli being who he is hooked me up as Dennis’ driver and I was able to hang out with the guy almost non-stop for 3 days. Despite a several decade age gap we clicked and spent those three days talking life and photography. I even got my first ever portfolio review from Dennis, which went something like this. “No. No. Nope. No. Almost. No. No. No.” and then handing it back to me and saying “I don’t like any of it”. That stung more than a bit to say the least! He then graciously signed a book for me and this poster of Audrey Hepburn for my fiance Sue before leaving:
After he left he surprised me by hooking me up with my choice of Dean prints. I chose the following, which now proudly hangs in my living room:
He asked me why I chose this one out of those he had offered and I told him that when I looked at this image, I felt like I was looking at James Dean the person and not James Dean the actor. He started laughing and told me the story of the photo. He said that he and “Jimmy” were wandering around New York and came across this coffin store. Jimmy wanted to go in and while Dennis was uneasy about it, followed him in. Dennis took a series of photos of Dean playing and goofing off in the coffins (Which you can see, along with most of Dennis’ other work at http://www.magnumphotos.com), all the while waiting. He knew he didn’t care about the photos of Dean being a goof, but he also expected Dean to give him something real. After awhile Dean sat up in the coffin and just looked at Dennis, which resulted in the photo above. Dennis told me he knew it was the right picture because Dean finally gave up, and when he looked at Dennis he looked in a way that showed a man who knew his life was about to change, knew that he may not see his family again (although he believed that due to his career being about to take off, and not the reason we all know now), and was unsure about life. He was a man in a place of transition and confusion, and this image summed it all up.
After that we continued to speak in a series of emails and phone conversations in which he gave me some of the best guidance and advice I could have ever asked for as a photographer and as a person. He was open, honest, and blunt as could be, but most importantly he always had your best interests in his heart. I truly loved that about him. For example, his telling me that he didn’t like anything in my portfolio pissed me off and caused me to work twice as hard as I had before (even though I had only been shooting for a few months at this point). I later asked him how hew knew that telling me that would motivate me. He said he just had a feeling it would get my goat and push me to be better. He also said that he did like a few of the images, but felt he needed me to think otherwise in order to get me going. Touche’ Mr. Stock! I could go on for hours about the insights he imparted to me…
As a photographer Dennis was an idol of mine for one reason: he shot what he wanted to shoot. He called himself the “self-assigned” photographer because he did the work he wanted to do. He would find something that interested him and chase after it with his camera until he was satisfied with what he had done. I asked him once how he chose his projects and he said it was different every time, but that each time his subject moved him in some way. He told me once of going to Provence and falling in love with it. So he stayed for SEVEN years and did a book. (Speaking of books, Dennis was amazingly prolific in that he had either a book or exhibition nearly every year since 1950.) I asked him how he could afford to shoot whatever he wanted, to finance these projects, and his answer was “I shot a lot of bullshit. Whatever I had to shoot to be able to do what I wanted, I would shoot it.” It’s advice that I think many of today’s photographers should heed. Some of his subjects included jazz:
and of course hippies:
Unlike so many other photographers out there, Dennis never stopped loving the evolution of photography. He wouldn’t allow himself to be called a photojournalist because he felt it too limiting, and preferred to call himself an essayist. Later in life he photographed flowers, Provence, and recently classic cars. Whatever caught his fancy. He also enjoyed the technological evolution of photography. When I first met him he had a Ricoh GRII slung around his neck and he was telling us how amazing the images were. He had no qualms about dumping film, and was excited about what was to come next. In fact, just a few months back he called me all excited about something he had just done. He had made a video of his classic car stills coupled with jazz music that he had found the rights to and posted it to youtube. The youtube part was most exciting to him as he loved the ability to show people something new in a different way. If you would like to see the video he posted, please go here:
Several times over the past few years Dennis had asked me to assist him on workshops that he gives, and every time I had some odd conflict some up. Today more than ever I regret not having made it out to one. Recently I had been helping him with a business project, and we were planning to have me meet up with him in March. It tears at my soul that we won’t make this meeting either.
Dennis loved many things in his life, but mostly he loved his wife, author Susan Richards. They had a wonderful relationship, I know that he loved her deeply, and my heart goes out to her on this day.
I loved, and still love for that matter, Dennis’ amazing spirit. He was always trying things, always exploring, and always looking for what’s next. I’ll close with a portrait of Dennis taken by Andreas Feininger in 1950, when Dennis won the Life Young Photographers Contest.
I miss you buddy, and the world is a little darker today with you gone…