In 1945, André de Dienes was a fashion photographer looking for models willing to pose nude in the desert for a personal project. When he contacted Blue Book Modeling Agency, they sent him 19-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty, with the caveat that she was married and might not want to pose nude, but she was eager for work. In his memoir, de Dienes describes meeting her at his hotel: “It was as if a miracle had happened to me. From the instant I looked at her and we began to talk, her voice, her smile and her beautiful blue eyes… Norma Jeane seemed to be like an angel…an earthly, sexy‐looking angel sent expressly for me!” De Dienes ended up taking some of the earliest photos of the nascent Marilyn Monroe, which are on view at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York City until July 30 (also on view are many of de Dienes’s surreal desert nudes made with other models). De Dienes photographed Monroe intensely after they first met, taking her on a road trip with stops in Death Valley and throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon, and he fell hard for his model, proposing they marry (she was separated and in the process of divorcing her first husband). But after a short engagement, she told him she couldn’t—her plan was to become an actress.
De Dienes and Monroe kept in touch as her career exploded, and he photographed her several times over the next decade, at her request and for Pageant magazine. After her death in 1962, de Dienes returned to the unpublished negatives he’d taken during their first encounters, making surreal superimpositions of her face onto clouds, sunsets and desert landscapes—a record of the lasting impression she made on him, and was about to make on the world.