WHEN I think back, there have been so many conversations with so many vivid subjects over the last couple of decades, but I will always have a special place in my memory for my talks with photographer Phil Stern.
Stern, who died last Saturday evening, had been shooting since the 1930s and had been pretty much any and everywhere you could imagine. And though many might think of his specialty as rarefied worlds of Hollywood and Jazz — he could and would settle into anything with a singular POV and sense of authority. His war photography and quiet interludes and candid moments of everyday life had equal power and resonance.
I was honored to be able to sit and listen to his globetrotting stories and even more so, to be able to be one of the people to tell a little bit of it. For some years afterward he remained in touch via letters, emails and the occasional phone call in which he always greeted me as “George.”
Here is a snip from my 2003 story during an all-day visit to his home in Hollywood:
Stern winds through his sunny living room-cum-studio. Aside from the cutouts, there’s not one photo framed on the wall. There are piles of Stern’s old LP covers stacked in boxes, some prints in matte-boards piled on a side table. Above the kitchen’s breakfast nook, a black-and-white collage of celebrity mugs spells out “Name Dropper”; a tiny cutout of Frank Sinatra, arms outstretched, pasted on a wooden crucifix, crowns the refrigerator: “That,” he says, with a dismissive wave of the hand, “was Frank’s idea.”
He wasn’t just everywhere, he allowed us to ride alongside, to be everywhere as well.
My thoughts and heart are with his family.
The rest of my feature is here.
And of course some of my all-time favorite Phil Stern images: