Hollywood through Magnum’s lens

Madrid show brings together candid shots of stars by the legendary agency's photographers James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Gregory Peck all feature

'Magnum on the Set' is now on at Sala de Arte Canal de Isabel II in Madrid.
'Magnum on the Set' is now on at Sala de Arte Canal de Isabel II in Madrid.Samuel Sanchez

James Dean goes over his lines on the set of Rebel Without a Cause; at one point he looks back and his fragile-looking face is captured by Dennis Stock’s camera. His expression is slightly defiant but also calm, as if a friend had suddenly called out, “Hey, Jimmy!” and he had naturally turned around.

Across the room, Elizabeth Taylor climbs up a spiral staircase. But unlike her colleague, the actress with the violet eyes seems uneasy, as though concerned about what she might find upstairs. The shot was taken by Burt Glinn during the filming of Suddenly, Last Summer. It was 1959 and by then, Dean and the silver Porsche Spyder that got him killed, his “Little Bastard,” were already the stuff of legend.

The ill-fated Dean and the beautiful Taylor met for the first time in Texas, in the summer of 1955, on the set of Giant, the larger-than-life story of a family of ranchers who find oil on their estate. Now, nearly six decades later, the two come together again in a traveling exhibition called Magnum on the Set (brought to Spain as La cámara indiscreta. Tesoros cinematográficos de Magnum Photos).

The show, which will remain at Madrid’s Sala Canal de Isabel II until July 27, brings together 116 images taken on the sets of 14 legendary movies, including Death of a Salesman, The Alamo and Moby Dick, by 17 photographers associated with the equally legendary agency.

The photographers were able to move at their ease around the sets

Unlike the typical photographs taken during shoots, which were often limited by the guidelines of the movie studios’ advertising departments, the images in this collection capture more candid moments in the lives of silver screen giants of the classic era, including Charlton Heston, John Wayne and Gregory Peck.

This was made possible by the freedom enjoyed by the Magnum photographers, who were able to move at their ease around the sets and dressing rooms.

“The photographers managed to create the necessary intimacy for the actors to let go and reveal the deepest, most hidden facets of their personality,” says the show’s curator, Emmanuelle Hascoët.

That is how Orson Welles was caught, cigar in hand, relaxedly chatting with Anthony Perkins in his office. Or how a group of actors from Planet of the Apes was captured in the middle of a street, posing with people who had nothing to do with the movie.

The show also reveals the atmosphere on the sets of some famous movies. “These are treasures from the Magnum archive,” says Hascoët. “Each image is unique, as were its stars and its photographers.”

La cámara indiscreta. Tesoros cinematográficos de Magnum Photos. Until July 27 at Sala de Exposiciones Canal de Isabel II, C/ Santa Engracia, 125, Madrid.

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