Eva Sereny, Who Photographed Movie Stars at Work, Dies at 86


In 1972 Eva Sereny was in Rome photographing rehearsals for “The Assassination of Trotsky,” starring Richard Burton as a Russian revolutionary, when his non-film wife, Elizabeth Taylor, visited the set.

One of Ms. Sereny’s recordings captured a moment in the celebrated stars’ famously tumultuous marriage that was soon to end: The two stared at each other icily as if they were reenacting the tensions between their characters in the 1966 film “Who’s Afraid?” By Virginia Woolf? “

“It was obvious that something was going on,” she told The Guardian in 2018. “You could feel it – there wasn’t much love between them. I don’t remember noticing the shot taken from a distance from below. If it had been a close-up of their faces, it would have just been two people who weren’t looking at each other very nicely. Body language brings everything together. “

The Taylor Burton image was one of many notable images in Ms. Sereny’s decades of photography career, mostly on hundreds of film sets around the world. She took portraits, one-offs and promotional photos of stars like Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, Robert De Niro, Jacqueline Bisset, Clint Eastwood, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Connery and Harrison Ford.

Ms. Sereny died on May 25 in a hospital near her home in London. She was 86.

The cause was complications from a massive stroke, said Carrie Kania, creative director of Iconic Images, who manages Ms. Sereny’s archive and published “Through Her Lens: The Stories Behind the Photography of Eva Sereny” in 2018 with ACC Art Books.

Ms. Sereny was on location for the first three Indiana Jones films and shot a well-known portrait of Mr. Ford, who played Jones, and Mr. Connery, who played his father, on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (1989). In 1978 she was on the island of Mykonos for the filming of “The Greek Tycoon” when she photographed Anthony Quinn dancing on the edge of the Aegean Sea.

And on the set of Bernardo Bertolucci’s erotic drama “Last Tango in Paris” (1972), she overcame Brando’s distrust of photographers and photographed him laughing as he lit Mr. Bertolucci’s cigarette and spoke to his co-star Maria Schneider.

“There was something very considerate about the way he talked to me,” she said on Through Her Lens. She remembered telling him that taking pictures in unsettled moments brought out “the most interesting pictures” and that “he sympathized with my recording and said, ‘Well, look, all right.

Eva Olga Martha Sereny was born on May 19, 1935 in Zurich to Hungarian parents. Her father Richard was a chemist; her mother, also known as Eva, was an actress before they got married.

When her father traveled to England on business shortly after the start of the Second World War, he was unable to return to Switzerland; Eva and her mother came to him in 1940. After the war, Mrs. Sereny opened a flower shop in the Burlington Arcade in London.

Eva’s photography career only began when she moved to Italy at the age of 20. There she married the engineer Vincio Delleani and had two sons, Riccardo and Alessandro. When her husband was in a car accident in 1966, she thought of a career.

“I remember sitting next to him in the hospital and thinking, ‘My God, but I’d be a widow for a few seconds,'” she told The Guardian. “‘I have to do something. I’m pretty artistic though,’ I can’t draw, what about photography? ‘”

Her husband set up a darkroom in the basement of her house and she started working with his Rolleiflex camera. A friend of hers, who headed the Italian Olympic Committee, asked her to photograph young athletes in training. Then she took the chance and flew to London where she presented her work to the Times of London.

Shortly after showing her photos of the athletes to the newspaper’s picture editor, The Times printed several of them.

With the help of a film publicist in Rome, Ms. Sereny spent two weeks on the set of Mike Nichols’ “Catch-22” (1970). It was the first of hundreds of film set orders that would result in their images being published in outlets such as Elle, Paris Match, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Time and Newsweek over the next 34 years.

One of her frequent motifs was Ms. Bisset, which she first found while filming Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” (1973) and then on the sets of “The Deep” (1977), “Inchon” (1981) and “The Greek Tycoon . “

“She was very feminine and enjoys her work,” said Ms. Bisset on the phone. “When we started she was bossy because I didn’t do what she wanted, but we became friends. She could be argumentative and she could make me laugh.

“One day she perked me up when she said, ‘Be sexy,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ It was such an impossible order and I asked, ‘What should I do? Be more specific. ‘”

Ms. Sereny’s work on film sets enabled her to use the technique of directors such as Nichols, Truffaut, Bertolucci, Federico Fellini (“Casanova”), Steven Spielberg (“Always” and the Indiana Jones films) and Werner Herzog (“Nosferatu the Vampyre”) ).

In 1984 she made her own film: “The Dress”, a 30-minute short film starring Michael Palin about a man who buys a dress for his lover. It won the BAFTA Award – the British equivalent of the Oscar – for best short film. A decade later she made a feature film, “Foreign Student”, about a French exchange student (Marco Hofschneider) at a university in Virginia who fell in love with a young black high school teacher (Robin Givens) in 1956.

John Petrakis described this film for The Chicago Tribune, calling it “a skillfully managed look at forbidden love that finds time between kisses to explore cultural differences in this classic fish-out-of-water story.”

Frustrated with the limited options available to female directors, especially those who weren’t young, Ms. Sereny didn’t make any other films. In 2004 she withdrew from photography.

Mrs. Sereny is survived by her sons; her partner Frank Charnock; and four grandchildren. Her husband died in 2007.

In 1973 Ms. Sereny was on the set of The Last of Sheila, a thriller on a yacht, and was given permission by director Herbert Ross to photograph the cast during rehearsals. But the sound of her shutter annoyed one of the film’s stars, Raquel Welch, who angrily demanded that Ms. Sereny leave for not having been notified of her presence.

Years later she was commissioned again to photograph Ms. Welch.

“I was just hoping and praying that she wouldn’t recognize me or remind me,” Ms. Sereny said in “Through the Lens.” “Just pretend it never happened!”

“From the moment we met again,” she added, “everything was perfect.”

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