The art of still photography has played an important role in the promotion of motion pictures since the inception of the medium. However, most photographers who capture the images on set labor in anonymity. It has only been in the last few decades that studios even identified the photographers of publicity photos by name on the press materials that are so widely distributed. As readers of Cinema Retro know, we have long promoted appreciation of the stills photographers and have showcased their work in our magazine. This is why we are quite excited by a new book, "Through Her Lens" (published by ACC Art Books) by Eva Sereny, who broke through a glass ceiling when she started capturing on set images in the 1960s in what was a male-dominated profession. Sereny had an exotic background: she was born of Hungarian parents in London, moved to Italy and took up photography before returning to London where, on a whim, she submitted some sample photos and ended up being hired by legendary publicist Gordon Arnell as a "Special Photographer" on the set of Mike Nichols' "Catch-22". In this capacity, Sereny differed from the unit stills photographer who was employed by the studio throughout the shoot. Instead, Sereny had independence and freedom to capture only those moments that intrigued her most. Her work revealed an astonishing intimacy whether it was photographing posed subjects or candid moments between takes. As Sereny's reputation grew, she gained greater access to interesting movie productions, though she still often had to contend with tempestuous stars. She initially annoyed Raquel Welch but years later the iconic star befriended her. On the set of "Last Tango in Paris", Marlon Brando forbade her from photographing him but ultimately relented and gave her complete artistic freedom to shoot him even when he was unawares.
Marlon Brando lights up director Bernardo Bertolucci on the set of "Last Tango in Paris".
Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford on the set of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".
On "The Assassination of Trotsky", she had to tread carefully to photograph Elizabeth Taylor, who was visiting Richard Burton on the set. More pleasant was her experiences on the set of three Indiana Jones movies, including taking an iconic publicity photo of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". There are craggy veterans such as John Huston and Richard Harris, hunky guys like Warren Beatty, Robert Redford and Michael Caine and elegant glamour symbols such as Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Bach and Jacqueline Bisset. (Bisset, along with Charlotte Rampling, provides a foreword for the book.) The volume is divided into chapters each dedicated to a film or a personality with Sereny providing anecdotes about her experience on the production. Other stars such as Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman are photographed in their private lives but no less remarkably than Sereny would have done on a film set. The book's large size, hardback format and superb reproductions of so many remarkable photos make this a "must" for retro movie lovers.