Monday’s Photography Inspiration – Dennis Stock

“The goal for the photographer is to be visually articulate.” – Dennis Stock

Dennis Stock was born in 1928 in New York City. His father was Swiss and his mother was English.

At the age of 17, he left home to join the United States Navy. Following his discharge, he won first prize and became an apprentice to Life magazine photographer Gjon Mili. That same year, he became an associate member of the photography agency Magnum. He became a full partner-member in 1954.

Stock met the actor James Dean in 1955, a few months before the latter’s sudden death. He undertook a series of photos of the actor in Hollywood, Dean’s hometown in Indiana, and in New York City. One of his portraits of Dean in New York’s Times Square became an iconic image of the young star. The black and white picture shows the actor with a pulled up collar on a long coat and a cigarette in his mouth on a rain-soaked, grey day. It later appeared in numerous galleries and on postcards and posters and became one of the most reproduced photographs of the post-war period.

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James Dean haunted Time Square – Dennis stock / Magnum

From 1957 until the early 1960s, Stock aimed his lens at jazz musicians, photographing such people as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Sidney Bechet, Gene Krupa and Duke Ellington or Miles Davis. With this series of photographs he published the book Jazz Street. In 1962, he received the first prize at the International Photo Competition in Poland. In 1968, Stock left Magnum to start his own film company, Visual Objectives Inc., and made several documentaries, but he returned to the agency a year later, as vice president for new media and film. In the mid-1970s, he traveled to Japan and the Far East, and also produced numerous features series, such as photographs of contrasting regions, like Hawaii and Alaska. In the 1970s and 1980s he focused on colour photography of nature and landscape, and returned to his urban roots in the 1990s focusing on architecture and modernism.

In 2006, Stock married writer Susan Richards. They lived in Woodstock, New York, with their four dogs.

Venice Beach Rock Festival – Dennis stock / Magnum Photos
Beauty contest for cattle at the Iowa state fair – Dennis stock / Magnum Photos

Stock managed to evoke the spirit of America through his memorable and iconic portraits of Hollywood stars, most notably James Dean. From 1957 to 1960 Stock made lively portraits of jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Sidney Bechet, Gene Krupa and Duke Ellington for his book Jazz Street. In 1968, Stock took a leave of absence from Magnum to create Visual Objectives, a film production company, and he shot several documentaries. In the late 1960s, he captured the attempts of California hippies to reshape society according to ideals of love and caring.

Earl Hines, Jimmy Archey, Francis Joseph ‘Muggsy’ Spanier and Earl Watkins – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos
Miles Davis 1958. – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos
Louis Armstrong in his dressing room at the Latin Casino. Philadelphia, USA. 1958 – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos

Then throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he worked on colour books, emphasising the beauty of nature through details and landscape. In the 1990s he went back to his urban origins, exploring the modern architecture of large cities. His later work was mostly focused on the abstraction of flowers.

Tulip series 2001 – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos
Flower farming in Northern Holland. Netherlands – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos
Tulip series 2001 – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos

Stock generated a book or an exhibition almost every year since the 1950s. He taught numerous workshops and exhibited his work widely in France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Japan.

He worked as a writer, director, and producer for television and film and his photographs have been acquired by most major museum collections. He served as president of Magnum’s film and new media division in 1969 and 1970.

Dennis Stock resided in Woodstock, New York, and his widow is the author Susan Richards.

On the set of filming ‘Planet of the Apes’ Hollywood California 1967 – Dennis Stock / Magnum Photos

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