Friday, February 22, 2008

Ellen Graham’s eye on the world: Sharon Tate

Sharon Tate, Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills, 1969.
I first knew Ellen and her husband Ian Graham in Los Angeles where they have a wonderful house in Beverly Hills and often entertain with cocktail parties. Ellen’s fabulous photographs are kept mainly in one large room, a gallery/library. There are so many famous faces in fascinating places that you can’t resist being distracted by them. Many times you’d see the same faces out on the Grahams’ terrace or around the pool during cocktails. In 2004 she published some of them in her “The Bad and the Beautiful” (Harry Abrams) with Christopher Walken on the cover.

Sharon Tate

The photograph (above) was taken in May of 1969. It was a beautiful spring day in Beverly Hills around four o’clock in the afternoon when the light is right, on the lawn of the house on Cielo Drive that she shared with the director Roman Polanski.

She was one of the most beautiful women I ever photographed – one of three at the time – Julie Christie (see NYSD 2.9.08) and Candy Bergen being the other two. Those are faces of perfection, with all the beauty of the old movie stars like Swanson and Garbo – the bone structure, the eyes, the skin.

She was very sweet, very much of a lady, very cooperative and very much appreciative. She trusted me completely but I didn’t have to tell her anything. She knew what to do (and she didn’t have to do anything because she was so beautiful; nobody could look better).

 
Ellen Graham
She was pregnant expecting her first child. She trusted me completely. I was overwhelmed with her beauty and her kindness. There were no press agents, no handlers, no stylists, no makeup people, unlike today when those people are always around. Without them, you have an intimacy with your subject –there’s no one to get in the way (these people don’t know anything; anyway).

Sharon Tate didn’t need that; she loved the camera and the camera loved her. The session lasted about an hour – I try not to go beyond that because people get tired. She changed her clothes a couple of times. It was a very easy session and she was pleased enough with it that she told me she wanted me to photograph her baby.

Three months later that hideous tragedy which occurred in that very house ended all that might have been for this beautiful woman and her child. When I saw Roman several years later in Paris, I said, “I have some beautiful pictures of Sharon.” He said, “I don’t want to be reminded.”

I understood. But looking back, I now think we should all be reminded.

— Ellen Graham
Sharon Tate, Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills, 1969 (from The Bad and The Beautiful).

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