The first photo of Marilyn that you’ll see as you walk through the door of publisher Thomas Lardon’s offices on the fourth floor of Charlottenburg’s Schlüterstraße shows her sitting on a recessed ledge on the corner of a grand Manhattan establishment. It’s dated late 1950s. She’s dressed in white, with what my nana used to call mules on her feet. She’s plump and happy – and slightly out of focus. Sitting a little further away on the same ledge an elderly African-American lady looks across at this vibrant figure. Drably attired in a dark blouse and skirt and sensible shoes, she’s been brought into slightly sharper focus than Marilyn. She holds our gaze and we see the actress through her eyes: tired but curious. What is it that fascinates about this woman? Is it Marilyn herself, or what we project onto her? Or is it what we imagine others projecting onto her?
It’s like a black and white revolving door of reception theory. It’s also just a fantastic photo. And at €350.00, a bit of a snip. There are only two prints of this particular shot left. (Actually, make that one.) And even less of the other, more expensive Marilyn photos from the New York series – including the iconic view of the tousled actress looking out of a hotel window. Lardon himself bought the rights for these photos from Marilyn’s friend, the photographer Sam Shaw (author of the famous “flying skirt” image) in 2004. There was a 2004 showing in Café Einstein, Unter den Linden. The accompanying catalogue from that exhibition is no longer in print. And once this showing closes, that’s it. No more prints, no more sales. Lardon has the rights and this, he says, is the end of the line.
The publisher’s rooms are cool and spacious: a professionally domesticated, minimalist setting for black and white images from the time when Marilyn was, apparently, at her happiest: in love (with Arthur Miller) and invested in her work under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg.
It’s hard to escape the spell that these images cast and their enchantment has a lot to do with their presentation here. The New York bustle that features on some of the shots; the grandly dilapidated interiors; the parks, the dressing rooms and the subtle gentility; not to mention that confident sexiness. Don’t bother looking for this in Mitte or Wedding or Kreuzberg. But it is all out there, beyond and below the windows of Lardon’s offices, in New-York-Charlottenburg. Marilyn fits right in, and our projections of the actress in imagined and real spaces fit right alongside her.
Like the best things in life, entrance is free. Savigny Platz is the closest S-Bahn. Schlüterstraße 51, Tue-Thu 1519:00. Through April 11.