Dennis Stock, a celebrated photographer who helped immortalize Hollywood stars such as James Dean, captured the tension and mood of jazz musicians in their smoky habitat, and cataloged the rebellious 1960s counterculture of bikers and hippies, died Monday at his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 81.
Magnum, the photographers' cooperative agency where Stock spent much of his career, confirmed the death but did not provide further details.
Working to create an "articulate image," Stock once said he wanted his photos to portray "an attitude of childlike discovery into adult existence."
He published dozens of books and had exhibitions in the world's prestigious art galleries, including the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Musee d'Art Moderne in Paris and the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.
Early in his career, he was Magnum's representative in Hollywood and specialized in trying to find unguarded moments in the lives of actors and artists who were used to the careful orchestration of publicity.
He caught trumpeter Louis Armstrong back stage at a concert in his underwear, actor Marlon Brando relaxing in his Napoleon wardrobe on the set of "Desiree" (1954), actress Audrey Hepburn in a moment of reflection as she stares out a car window and actor James Dean looking into the camera while laying in a coffin, as if trying it on for size.
His relationship with Dean inspired some of his most enduring work. In 1955, he accompanied the actor on a road trip back to his hometown in Fairmount, Ind., and took pictures of Dean standing in a pigsty, posing in front of a tractor, eating at his family's dinner table, and sitting, oddly uncomfortable, in his old classroom.
One of Stock's best known images showed Dean walking in the rain in Times Square, shoulders hunched and with a cigarette dangling from his lips. The picture was credited with defining 1950s cool and immortalizing the actor, who died soon after in a car wreck.
Stock was born on July 24, 1928, in the Bronx, to an English mother and a Swiss father. During the Depression, he told the London Independent newspaper in 2004, "life went from OK to horrible." After his father's death, he left home at 17 and joined the Navy during World War II. He then moved back to New York and became a photographer's apprentice.
He worked for photo luminaries such as W. Eugene Smith and Gjon Mili. Studying under Mili influenced Stock's pictures of jazz musicians such as Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Earl "Fatha" Hines.
Stock was married several times, a Magnum spokeswoman said, and survivors include his wife, writer Susan Richards of Sarasota and upstate Woodstock; three children; a grandson; and five great-grandchildren. At one time, he was reportedly engaged to Kate Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.