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EntertainmentEva Sereny, Who Photographed Film Stars at Work, Dies...

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


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In 1972, Eva Sereny was in Rome photographing rehearsals for “The Assassination of Trotsky,” starring Richard Burton as the Russian revolutionary, when his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, who was not in the movie, visited the set.

One of Ms. Sereny’s shots captured a moment in the celebrated stars’ famously turbulent marriage, which would soon end: the two staring icily at each other, as if they were re-enacting the tensions between their characters in the 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“It was obvious something was going on,” she told The Guardian in 2018. “You could feel it — there was no great love between them. I don’t remember them even noticing the shot, which was taken at a distance from below. If it had been a close-up of their faces, it would have just been two people looking not very nicely at each other. The body language brings it all together.”

The Taylor-Burton picture was one of many notable images in Ms. Sereny’s decades-long career as a photographer, principally on hundreds of movie sets around the world. She took portraits, candid shots and publicity 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 of a massive stroke, said Carrie Kania, the creative director of Iconic Images, which handles Ms. Sereny’s archive and, with ACC Art Books, published “Through Her Lens: The Stories Behind the Photography of Eva Sereny” in 2018.

Ms. Sereny was on location for the first three Indiana Jones films and snapped a widely 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). She was on the island of Mykonos for the filming of “The Greek Tycoon” in 1978 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 took pictures of him laughing, lighting Mr. Bertolucci’s cigarette and talking to his co-star, Maria Schneider.

“There was something very considerate about the way he spoke to me,” she said in “Through Her Lens.” She recalled that she told him taking photos in unposed moments produced “the most interesting images,” and that “he sympathized with my take and said, ‘Well, look, all right.’”

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

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

Eva’s photography career did not start until well after she moved to Italy when she was 20. There she married Vincio Delleani, an engineer, and had two sons, Riccardo and Alessandro. When her husband was in a car accident in 1966, she thought about a career.

“I remember sitting beside him in the hospital thinking, ‘My God, but for a few seconds I would be a widow,’” she told The Guardian. “‘I’ve got to do something. I’m quite artistic, though I can’t draw. What about photography?’”

Her husband set up a darkroom in the basement of their house, and she started working with his Rolleiflex camera. A friend of hers, who ran the Italian Olympic committee, asked her to take pictures of young athletes in training. She then took a chance and flew to London, where she pitched her work to The Times of London.

Soon after she showed her photos of the athletes to the paper’s picture editor, The Times printed several of them.

With help from a film publicist in Rome, Ms. Sereny spent two weeks on the set of Mike Nichols’s “Catch-22” (1970). It was the first of hundreds of movie set assignments, which would lead to the publication of her pictures in outlets like Elle, Paris Match, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Time and Newsweek over the next 34 years.

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

“She was refined in a very feminine way, and enjoyed her work,” Ms. Bisset said by phone. “When we started, she was bossy because I wasn’t doing what she wanted, but we became friends. She could be argumentative and she could make me laugh.

“One day, she jolted me when she said, ‘Be sexy,’ and I’d say, ‘What do you mean?’ It was such an impossible command, and I’d ask, ‘What do you want me to do? Be more specific.’”

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

In 1984 she directed a film of her own: “The Dress,” a 30-minute short starring Michael Palin, about a man who purchases a dress for his mistress. It won the BAFTA award — the British equivalent of the Oscar — for best short film. A decade later, she directed a feature, “Foreign Student,” about a French exchange student (Marco Hofschneider) at a Virginia university who falls in love with a young Black grammar-school teacher (Robin Givens) in racially sensitive 1956.

Reviewing that film for The Chicago Tribune, John Petrakis called it “a deftly handled look at forbidden love that also finds time between kisses to examine cultural differences in this classic fish-out-of-water tale.”

Frustrated with the limited opportunities for female directors, especially those who were not young, Ms. Sereny did not make any other films. She retired from photography in 2004.

Ms. 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 murder mystery set on a yacht, and given approval by the director, Herbert Ross, to photograph the cast as it rehearsed. But the sound of her shutter annoyed one of the film’s stars, Raquel Welch, who angrily demanded that Ms. Sereny leave because she had not been informed of her presence.

Years later, she was assigned again to photograph Ms. Welch.

“I just hoped and prayed she wouldn’t recognize or remember 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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