Fame: Celebrity, Photography, and the Deconstruction of an Archetypical Icon?

Weegee, Marylin Monroe, ca. 1952

Richard Avedon, [Contact sheet of Marilyn Monroe posing with dog], 1958

Richard Avedon, [Contact sheet of Marilyn Monroe posing with dog], 1958

Martin Munkacsi, [Jean Harlow, Hollywood], ca. 1937

Weegee, [Movie star signing autographs at a movie premiere], ca. 1951

Weegee, Autograph Seeker, ca. 1951

Autograph book compiled by John James Montgomery, 1876-77

The camera and the photograph created the pedestal of flawlessness that celebrities stand on today. They created images of iconic beauty and timeless cool and thus gave the motion picture industry a way to commodify the looks and personalities of their actors. The cinema became about an idealized way of looking, feeling, and being and the camera and the photograph helped to solidify the celebrity’s iconic status.

Celebrities, and contemporary society’s fascination with them, have become exaggerated to a degree of ridiculousness. We no longer lust after them for their larger-than-life personas or for their cosmetic perfections. It seems that now we hunt them down like animals, point a camera in their face and emasculate all of their beauty and mystique for the greater joy of the public. It’s ironic is that the tool that empowered them to a god like or royal status is the one that that is ripping it away from them.

The camera enabled us to become fascinated with the imperfections of the celebrity and, as a result, helped us to deconstruct them.  We used to lust after their intimate details and watch their every move, maybe in hope of an insight into what it’s like to be famous or special. But now we scrutinize their home life, pick apart their flawed skin, and imperfect personalities.

These images investigate early celebrity culture and how different an icon can seem when framed in an outtake or a contact sheet.

Stephen K. Schuster, ICP-Bard MFA 2012

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