James Dean’s Last Journey
Anton Corbijn is making a film on the relationship.
“I used to call him Dennis the Menace, after a cartoon that was on TV at that time. He is the coolest guy I've met in my life, I assure you, but when you looked at him, you knew he had no time for bullshit. He was a gentle man of few words, but incredibly direct,” Michael Shulman recounts by phone from New York. Shulman is director of the Magnum photographic agency, probably the most important of its kind in the world, and "the Menace" is none other than Dennis Stock, one of the best photographers in history and a legend of the profession in the USA. "A maestro and a key figure in understanding photography in the '50s and '60s. I think we've been slow to do him justice," says editor Tony Nourmand, cigarette in hand, at the door of a pub in London.
Stock fans can finally admire the body of work published by Nourmand in an impressive tome (published by Reel Art Press) that is released worldwide next week. One of the sections of the book deals with the friendship between the photographer and James Dean. Stock’s are some of the most iconic photos of the actor, who also accompanied Dean on a little-known trip to Fairmount (Indiana), where Dean went to school and where he is buried. The book also features Stock’s time in (Greenwich) Village photographing the poets, visits to Madison Avenue advertising agencies, travels to California to document the hippie movement and his (legendary) jazz photos (Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong).
"Dennis met Dean when he was not the icon that he was going to be and the two connected in a very intimate way," said Shulman, who shared Stock’s office from 2002 until the photographer's death in January 2010. "Their friendship began in early 1955 and Dennis took many photos of Dean in New York. Life published these photos on March 7 of that year along with others, such as the one where Dean is in a black coat and a cigarette in mouth, crossing Times Square in the rain."
When James Dean died in the September, the photo was reproduced by thousands and became part of the legend. "The funny thing," continues the director of Magnum, "is that Dennis wasn’t that keen on this shot and it was Dean himself who urged him to pull the trigger".
Snapshots of the last trip home in Indiana, with Dean far removed from the image that this fans cultivated have inspired another photographer, Anton Corbijn (director of films such as Control and collaborator of U2 and Tom Waits) to direct a film about the friendship between Dean and Stock. The actor Dane DeHaan will play Dean, while – assuming no last minute changes – Robert Pattinson (Twilight) will play Stock: "Obviously, it's pretty intimidating to play a legend like James Dean, but in reality there has not been enough talk about the friendship between him and Dennis Stock, of that sense of humour and connection that the trip to Indiana made and it and was very revealing for both of them before James Dean became ... well, James Dean” says DeHaan.
Stock was, above all, a reporter. His celebrated photographs on immigration in the early fifties, or his visits to Hollywood movie sets (Charlton Heston congratulated the photographer for his work on the set of Planet of the Apes) or his coverage of various events in the city of skyscrapers, such as the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1959. Stock worked for Magnum from 1954 , where he spent most of his professional career. Among his colleagues were Humphrey Bogart, Duke Ellington, Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick himself. During a period when the photographer was devoted to the cinema jobs that fell into his hands included The Misfits (where he befriended Marilyn Monroe) or the direction of the second unit in Lolita (the 1962 Kubrick film). His reputation was as someone tough, not given to small talk, and he became, in the eyes of frivolous Hollywood, someone you could trust, a discreet man able to keep to himself any hint of scandal. He passed muster with Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly and eventually became one of the most respected men in Tinseltown.
However, the photographer returned to New York to deal with the love of his life. "Dennis Stock was in love with photography," concludes Schulman, "which is probably why his work remains as relevant today as it was 50 years ago."
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