Behind the Lens
Capturing Timeless Beauty: Andre de Dienes’ Iconic Journey through Photography
For over 100 years, our walls have been graced by photographs accentuating our lives with timeless stills of the memories, beauty, strife, and the pain of life captured by many brilliant and amazing talents. Andre de Dienes was one such photographer, whose technical mastery in the darkroom was only matched by his exceptional talent with camera and composition.
De Dienes is universally known for photographs of the legendary Marilyn Monroe, (a.k.a.Norma Jean Dougherty), the celestial Hollywood icon, and focus of every man’s fantasy of the ‘50s and beyond. Their relationship began when he hired her as a model at the tender age of 19. After a five week road trip, which created a photographic collection of a young Marilyn Monroe, a love affair continued in one form or another until her death.
More educated aficionados recall that de Dienes was known for far more than the dozens of photos of Dougherty. Although he never shot Dougherty nude, de Dienes is also known for his elegant creations of naked imagery, frequently shot in the deserts of California. His models were often unknown, but his style and technique of his images elicited preeminence unsurpassed at his time, inspiring, arguably, such legendary luminaries as Hugh Hefner to imitate his style.
More modern photographers such as Firooz Zahedi, Matthew Rolson and the late, legendary talent Herb Ritts were all influenced by de Dienes’ fusion of the sensuality of the human form. Even such contemporary artists as Annie Leibowitz and David LaChapelle, although considered more pop art photographers than traditional fine art photographers, show some clear influences by the works of Andre de Dienes’.
In a recent show at Clair Obscur Gallery in Los Angeles, de Dienes’ work was exhibited alongside storied artist Man Ray and modern digital artist, Dahmane. De Dienes’ new book Studies of the Female Nude, published by Twin Palms, has been very well received, with one gallery consultant expressing the general sentiment, “A huge hit!” One area of his revolutionary prowess, overlooked for many years, has been brought to light in recent months. His new publisher, One West Publishing, has been working nonstop bringing all styles of de Dienes photography to the world, scheduling gallery shows all over the nation. As a leading to the Studies of the Female Nude premiere, One West produced a de Dienes retrospective exhibited at the famed Staley Wise Gallery in New York City, during the summer of 2004. This was followed by a reception in another prerelease event at Photo LA. Experiencing image after image, people remarked at the incredibly high level of printing quality and use of technical lab methods in creating seamless montages and distortions in his nudes and Marilyn Monroe portraiture thirty five years before computerized manipulation. When exhibited next to the artist Dahmane, who uses a standard photo of a model and superimposes the model in a digital background, de Dienes’ technical abilities using chemical and manual processes far eclipsed the modern product in terms of quality, artistry and technical merit.
Andre de Dienes’ photo library began in 1938, when he worked for such publications as Vogue and Esquire. Becoming disillusioned with glamour photography, he embarked upon a stage where he documented the striking images of Hopi, Navajo and Apache Indian lifestyles and customs, as well as the struggles and trying times during the 50’s in Harlem and Mississippi. After moving to Hollywood, he freelanced for movie studios in Los Angeles, creating his amazing portfolio of classic Hollywood legends and celebrities. While in Hollywood, de Dienes was also sharpening his classic and revolutionary talents in nude form photography.
Although Andre de Dienes passed in 1985, his work and genius still lives on through his wife, Shirley. Only recently, after years of litigation and family disputes, has Shirley de Dienes been successful in exhibiting the true scope of her husband’s body of work.
“His beautiful work represents both a time in history and a time in photography that will never be repeated. After his death, I have worked endlessly and at times had to fight to keep the Andre de Dienes Collection of photographs together and protect his name and intellectual property rights,” shared Shirley de Dienes when asked about her husband’s achievements in photography, and her efforts to keep them for posterity.
Although Andre de Dienes is considered in some circles a commercial photographer, one cannot discount the pioneering technical achievements of de Dienes, especially when coupled with his romantic lines and feel of form and sensuality.