A picture tells a thousand words — and photos of famous couples throughout pop culture history can tell us more about their relationship than all the tabloids, biographies, and interviews put together. Photography may be a two-dimensional medium, but passion and intimacy cannot be contained by paper alone. A new book featuring rare photos of French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and British actress Jane Birkin is a fine example of this. The images were taken by Jane’s brother, photographer Andrew Birkin, and detail the legendary relationship between the idols. The book inspired us to search for photos that tell the story of other famous romances.
Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
Gainsbourg was mesmerized by the much younger Birkin, who remained with the French singer for more than a decade. They were effortlessly stylish, driven, and captivated audiences with their film and music collaborations — the song “Je t’aime… moi non plus” a major highlight of their creative union.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
This romantic photo of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward was taken on the set of A New Kind of Love in 1963 (the couple was already married) and was recently used as the poster image for the 66th Cannes Film Festival. They appeared in 11 feature films and remained married for 50 years, until the actor’s death in 2008. The photo is a timeless reminder of the couple’s shared devotion to life, love, and the art of film.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
One of cinema’s most volatile couples, this publicity photo of Burton and Taylor was snapped on the set of Vincente Minnelli’s 1965 film The Sandpiper. The film was created during the height of the couple’s fame — their relationship sparked a tabloid frenzy since their affair started while both were still married. The photo embodies the intensity and somberness of the pair’s stormy history.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Bogie and Bacall were Hollywood icons, but this wedding day photo (taken in 1945) shows a rarely seen side to the couple — a relationship that was filled with old-fashioned romance. Bacall elaborated on their partnership in a 2009 interview:
“I’m so lucky to have married Bogie and to have had such a fantastic relationship, even if it was so short [14 years]… I was headstrong and he was patient and so loving and funny and witty, my God! A man of honor and integrity and he lived his life by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. And, by golly, if anyone lied to him, they were out. Most of the time I was in awe of him; he was the most incredible man who walked on earth…. ”
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller
The pensive Miller and vivacious Monroe seemed at striking odds, but her girlishness tempered his serious nature perfectly — as captured here by Richard Avedon in 1957.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow
The highlights of their relationship included murder, kidnapping, and robbery, but this photo captures the young outlaws in love without all the posturing (and guns).
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
Tracy and Hepburn’s personal and professional relationship lasted 25 years. The love affair began while Tracy was still married (though separated from his spouse), which didn’t faze the independent and untraditional Hepburn. The actress described Tracy as tortured — he suffered from lifelong alcoholism and depression — but she stood by his side through the worst of it.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford
Pickford and Fairbanks were considered Hollywood royalty, and the couple famously entertained Tinseltown’s biggest and brightest. Their Beverly Hills estate, Pickfair, was described as “a gathering place only slightly less important than the White House, and much more fun.” This photo captures the couple planting a tree on the lawn of Pickfair in 1923.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
This romantic image of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable was captured on the set of their 1932 film, No Man of Her Own — four years before their legendary romance that ended in tragedy with the untimely death of the screen starlet. During the shoot, the pair were married to other partners and playfully quarreled on set, their frankness often causing them to butt heads. They became inseparable after reuniting years later.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
A snapshot from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s first bed-in, which took place during the couple’s honeymoon in an attempt to turn the media’s attention toward a shared goal of world peace, captures their free-spiritedness, humor, and eccentricities — which the general public never quite grasped.
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love
We’re big fans of the adorable Courtney kissing Kurt photo, but something about this image reveals the couple’s struggles and tenderness with candid gestures and expressions.
Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed
Best friends, collaborators, and partners in every sense of the word, the pioneering Anderson and Reed epitomized an era of New York cool and proved you could still create compelling work past your 20s.
Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard
Godard’s gaze on muse Karina is ever-present in his films. The couple fell in love shortly after working on Le Petit Soldat and founded a production company. Godard’s obsession with the cinema kept his attention, and the couple never quite achieved the intimacy they shared on film in their personal relationship, but it was a love filled with passion and magnetism.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
It was a tumultuous marriage, but Frida Kahlo considered husband Diego Rivera her artistic mentor. It’s said that the two artists encouraged, challenged, and supported each other’s careers. They ultimately led separate lives, but frequently joined forces for political and creative pursuits.
Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
The enduring relationship between stars Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, which lasted for nearly 60 years until Davis’ death in 2005, is filled with tales of activism (both spoke on behalf of Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King) and artistry (they wrote, acted, and directed in several creative fields). The couple met while performing a play in the New York theater. They both honed their craft on the stage (which inspired the selection of this image), treating roles for African-Americans that had traditionally been considered lesser or stereotypical with seriousness and sensitivity.