10 Photographs That Defined the ’60s


Bert Stern, the fashion and art photographer known for his pictures in Vogue and Look magazines in the 1950s and ’60s, died at his home in New York on Tuesday at the age of 83. While celebrated for his skills as a compelling ad man and a master portraitist of major Hollywood film stars, Stern was perhaps best known for shooting the famous “last sitting” of Marilyn Monroe, at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, two months before the actress passed away.

Bert Stern, Marilyn Monroe (the bed and the wine, sipping) from The Last Sitting, 1962.

[Image via Staley Wise Gallery]

Ranging in their degrees of solemnity and playfulness (with no shortage of nudity), the pictures have been shaded, in hindsight, by collective guilt and confusion about Monroe’s death, which was pronounced a suicide but remains unresolved.

Stern’s is one photograph in which the facts of a celebrity’s non-fictional life story (which for Monroe was full of abuse, neglect, and overexposure) have over time transformed pictures into something much more powerful and lasting than a vanity portrait. It is one of large handful of photographs from the 1960s that have truly been enriched, over time, by the difference between what we knew then and what we know now. Here are some of the other images that have come to define the decade in our collective memory.

Truman Capote in Vanity Fair

Irvin Penn. Truman Capote, New York, shot 1965, printed 1968.Platinum-palladium print. 40.2 x 39.2 cm.

[Image via MetMuseum.org]

Capote was nothing if not bold, and while the overt posturing he demonstrated on the back cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms is entirely to his own credit, this portrait by Irving Penn was no less ingenious. Taken nearly a decade after the publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it shows the author in a distinguished, pensive, but no less flamboyant mode than he had been in ten years earlier.

Martin Luther King, Jr. at the White House

Yoichi R. Okamoto. President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the White House Cabinet Room, 18 March 1966.

[Image via Wikipedia]

Though he was largely distrusted by civil rights allies in the Democratic party as a racist — most of all by Robert F. Kennedy — President Johnson took immense risks to convince Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In addition to his televised address following the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, in which he announced the arrest of four Ku Klux Klansmen implicated in her death, one of the most memorable moments of the civil rights epic in LBJ’s tenure took place in 1966, when he invited Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, and Whitney Young to the White House.

Bob Dylan in New York

Richard Avedon. Bob Dylan, Singer, 132nd Street and FDR Drive, Harlem, New York City, November 4, 1963. Gelatin silver print, printed 1965.10 x 7 3/4 in. (25.4 x 19.7 cm).

[Image via Live Auctioneers]

The only portrait of Dylan that could compete with the album art for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was shot by Richard Avedon a few months after he performed with Joan Baez for the March on Washington. Dylan may have been a commanding success by this point, but Avedon nevertheless relied, profitably, on his persistent image as a shoestring musician living out of a guitar case.

The Kennedys in Hyannis Port

Mark Shaw, The Kennedys vacationing at Hyannis Port, MA, July 1961.

[Image via Vogue ]

When seeking to romanticize or humanize the turbulent lives of the Kennedys, few photographers came as far as Mark Shaw, who toured with then-Senator Kennedy during the 1959 presidential campaign, and eventually followed them to their home in Cape Cod. The President liked the pictures so much that Shaw eventually became the family’s de facto portraitist.

Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick

David McCabe, Andy Warhol & Edie Sedgwick with Empire State Building New York, 1964. C-print. 47.5 x 33.5 cm.

[Image via Christie’s]

Many photographers besides Warhol himself tried to capture the copacetic energies of Warhol and the heiress and model Edie Sedgwick. Among the few successes was this three-part portrait by David McCabe, which echoes Warhol’s fascination with the New York tower as a metaphor for fame.

Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston, Pt. 2

[Image via Smashing]

Whereas the first match between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston was widely regarded as an upset — Jackie Gleason wrote that he would eat crow if Liston lost — the second encounter, in 1965, was truly shocking. It is hard to imagine Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer succeeding at taking such a portrait today, especially when we consider that Ali’s boastful pose, and his refusal to go to a neutral corner while the referee proceeded with a count, would have rendered the victory illegal. Many experts still regard the knockout as a theatrical sham, believing that Liston threw the fight because he owed money to the Mafia or feared a reprisal from Ali’s supporters in the Nation of Islam.

Nikita Khrushchev at the UN

[Image via AP]

According to Khrushchev’s granddaughter, Nina L. Khrushcheva, this source of decades-long parody and embarrassment began when the Secretary General decided he was uncomfortable with a new pair of shoes. Railing in response to speeches by Philippines delegate Lorenzo Sumulong and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, he decided to take them off, and on his way back up to the lectern, decided to pick one up and bang it against the podium for effect. Though it is reproduced most of the time with a shoe inserted artificially into the Soviet premier’s hand, details about the notorious “Khrushchev shoe-banging incident” remain disputed.

The execution of Nguyen Van Lem

[Image via Wikipedia]

Optimism about the progress of the Vietnam War reached a turning point following the Tet Offensive, during which Nguyen Van Lem, a soldier for the Viet Cong, was executed on the streets of Saigon by a South Vietnamese officer named Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The offensive, which interrupted a truce during the Tet lunar new year celebrations, jolted global perceptions of what Communist guerrillas in Vietnam were capable of, and gave ample fuel to the anti-war movement in America. UPDATE: Readers have rightly pointed out that noted photojournalist Eddie Adams (1933 – 2004) won a Pulitzer Prize for this image.

John and Yoko’s Bed-In

[Image via Time]

John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s mostly jesting protest against the Vietnam War took place shortly after the couple exchanged their vows on March 20, 1969 and took up residence in Room 902 at the Amsterdam Hilton. Knowing their new marriage would attract attention, Lennon and Ono deliberately sought friends in television and print media to announce that they would stay in bed for two weeks, in a variation on the popular “sit-in” strategy of peace activism. The following month, John and Yoko reportedly sent acorns, symbols of peace and rebirth, to heads of state around the world, hoping that they would be ceremonially replanted. They received no response.