There is nothing worst for a photographer, like for an actor, to be typecast. For Dennis Stock, who passed away this week, that is what happened. Ultra famous for the iconic images he took of James Dean just before he became famous, he had to drag this notoriety like a canon ball tied to his foot throughout his whole career. To a point that few people know the rest of his work. Which is a shame.
Dennis was a relationship photographer. Unlike Henri Cartier Bresson or Capa , Dennis wanted and needed to know his subjects very well before he would photograph them. He had to see their insides before taking pictures of their outside. Maybe that is what he took out of his two weeks assisting Eugene Smith.
Incredibly fortunate to have worked as an assistant for some of the greatest name of photography early on in his career ( Eugene Smith, Gjon Mili), he also had extremely good contact with the photo beast of the time , Life Magazine. Unlike other original Magnum photographers, he was not known for his nice, cuddly ways. Direct, sometimes harsh, he did not hesitate to say what he thought, regardless of the consequences. His images somewhat reflect this. They are direct, have no artifice, and can be cruel sometimes. However, that was the cruelty that comes with reality and he never apologized for it because he didn’t feel responsible. The world as it is.
Dennis Stock photography could be separated in two phases: His people years ( Hollywood, Jazz, Communities) in the first half of his career and his nature years. Somewhere in his photography search, he must either have become very disappointed with people, as he completely stop photographing them until his death. Maybe it was because he wanted to escape the incredibly suffocating success of his James Dean images and show that he could do great images without a human figure in them.
What is certain, is that like one his mentor Eugene Smith, he worked on his stories for a long, long them. He was nt a snaphot shooter, not an opportunity snapper. Weeks, months, if not years was not an uncommon period of time for him to complete a story. That his why he does not leave a huge body of work, but rather a very selective passionate vision of the world.
Every time a great photographer dies, it is another eye on the world that closes.
Magnum in Motion did a great piece on Dennis Stock and his work :