Just the other day and over a cup of coffee, I discovered the name of the photographer behind many iconic photographs of yesteryear. When Dennis Stock was born in the Bronx in 1928, his destiny as one of the greatest photographers of his generation was sealed.
Free-spirited and possessing a dislike of formal tuition, Stock quit academia to enlist in the US military at the age of 17. Upon his discharge he became an apprentice to Life magazine photographer, Gjon Mili. After winning first prize in Life’s Young Photographer’s Competition, he was invited to join the world-famous Magnum agency at the invitation of its co-founder, Robert Capa.
During his time at Magnum he shot a photo essay on rising star, James Dean. Included within this work was this moody shot of Dean, walking through a rain-soaked Times Square. His first book, Portrait of a Young Man, James Dean was published in 1956 and went on to produce books almost annually until 2005. All his books are out of print right now but many can be found (used) online. He also photographed many Hollywood stars including Audrey Hepburn, seen here during the filming of Sabrina in 1954. From 1957 he embarked upon photographing jazz culture and musicians over a three-year period.
During the 1960′s, Stock moved away from portraits to concentrate on longer-term themes like the Woodstock generation and ‘road people’ (bike gangs, hitch hikers, travellers) and the hippie settlements of the time. His photo of a swaying long-haired girl at a Californian rock festival in 1968, was one of those unplanned moments in photography after she jumped onto the stage, although the photo itself is timeless. Stock cared less about the technical aspects to photo-making, and more about being adventurous and observant.
Stock’s anarchistic temperament stood him apart from his peers. He chose stories which gave him a true sense of fulfilment and which interested him personally – never bringing him much attention. During an address to photojournalism students in 2009 he told them ‘I have never taken on an assignment, I’ve always photographed what I wanted to be photographing. When you’re shooting what you’re interested in shooting, you’re always going to be happy.’
During the 1970s and 1980s his scope broadened further as he turned to colour and the natural world, but also to modern architecture. But there was much more besides his taking photographs. He had also worked as a writer, director and producer for television and film, to teaching in workshops. His work was widely exhibited in France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Japan.
Dennis Stock died in 2010, leaving behind works he was committed to and loved, stretching back over 60 years. He lived in Woodstock, New York. His widow is the writer, Susan Richards.