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See Classic Hollywood Through Sid Avery’s Lens

A new exhibition highlights Avery's groundbreaking approach to celebrity photography

Correction appended, 2:42 p.m.

During the golden era that was Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s, the work of photographer Sid Avery often appeared in the pages of outlets like LIFE and The Saturday Evening Post. But, though his subjects were already icons in their own time—stars like Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn—his approach was something new. He would often shot notable people at their homes, in a casual environment, making the stars seem more accessible to the average person.

After Avery passed away in 2002, the New York Times wrote that his work “was a departure from the glamorized, soft-focus portraits of an earlier Hollywood era when images of the stars were tightly controlled by the major studios.”

Avery’s approach didn’t just result in a candid look at classic stars. It was also a recipe for classic stories.

Case in point: the 1953 episode when Avery shot Marlon Brando at the actor’s bungalow in Beverly Glen, Calif. The photographer had been assigned to photograph Brando, who would go onto win an Oscar for Best Actor for On the Waterfront two years later, for The Saturday Evening Post. Rather than focusing on the glamorous side of the star’s life, Avery asked Brando to clean the messy house, capturing Brando outside, carrying a Campbell’s soup box full of trash.

Along the way, Avery also got to observe James Dean on the set of Giant in 1955 and ride as Steve McQueen’s passenger in the actor’s Jaguar in 1960.

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The Morrison Hotel Gallery is now hosting Avery’s first solo show in New York City in almost two decades, The Private Moments of Hollywood’s Golden Era: The Photography of Sid Avery.

“I guess in a way, Sid sort of defined in photography what we would now call the Mad Men era,” says Morrison Hotel Gallery co-owner Peter Blachley, “It was really a classy time for a photographer to be out working.”

To Blachley, Avery’s iconic image of the cast of the original Ocean’s Eleven around a pool table speaks to his ability to turn stars into symbols of a moment in time. (Avery would later be called back to mimic his own iconic photograph for the remake in 2001, shortly before his death.)

“It takes a very skilled photographer to be able to capture history that way and have it live on,” says Blachley.

The Private Moments of Hollywood’s Golden Era: The Photography of Sid Avery opens Friday and runs through Nov. 6th at New York City’s Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the years during which Sid Avery shot Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando. Those photographs were taken in 1960 and 1953.

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