My Most Important Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe, New York, 1988

2 minute read

Some actors like to pose for portraits. They enjoy the exchange with the photographer and the moment when they feel they have been looking their best.

But not Meryl Streep.

I met Meryl in 1978 on the set of Kramer vs. Kramer. We also did the poster for the movie and then kept working together from time to time.

I took this portrait in 1988 for Interview Magazine’s cover story. I was surprised that Meryl Streep agreed to it, as I knew she committed so rarely. I was trepidatious, as I wanted to do well for the magazine, for myself, but mostly for her because I knew she was doing it for me.

We were in a studio in Soho, New York. Meryl Streep came alone. She never comes with an entourage. We were a small team in a very intimate space.

It is always hard to do portraits of people you know well and love, but for the kind of portraits I do, intimacy is everything. I need the collaboration of the person I photograph because I want it to be a shared moment. The person has to be able to be open and trust you enough to let you look in. To sit for a portrait leaves you vulnerable and it’s intimidating, both for the sitter and the photographer. While not in character, Meryl Streep is reluctant to be looked at and to be seen. But that day she was open, ready to stay a little longer…

I felt Meryl was at her most, most beautiful that day. The portraits from that series are extremely simple, classic and pure. People remember them.

The portrait of Meryl Streep, along with other portraits of artists and filmmakers by the celebrated photographer, will be on view for the first time in New York during the selling exhibition “Brigitte Lacombe: Complicities” at Phillips gallery from June 15 to July 30, 2015.

Meryl Streep, Soho, New York, 1988.Brigitte Lacombe

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at