yury toropstov – marilyn and i

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Yury Toropstov

Marilyn And I

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“Marilyn and I” is a tribute to Marilyn Monroe and her fans. It started in 2005 when I got access to an authentic summer dress from the personal wardrobe of Marilyn Monroe. It became an essential element of my project. With the dress folded in my backpack I went to photograph men and women of all ages and social backgrounds who share at least one thing in common – a strong personal attachment to Marilyn Monroe. I wanted to know what kind of relation Marilyn Monroe’s admirers have with her image today. Why the myth of Marilyn does goes on?

For all those people who became my models, the encounter with the dress which touched the body of their idol was very emotional. With my camera I tried to capture that emotion. The dress served a material evidence of the passed existence of Marilyn. It was a moment when the real met the imaginary because for most of them Marilyn existed only in photographs, movies and of course in their imagination. And for me, the dress was a pretext for doing something I enjoy most in my profession – photographing people.

(The title slide depicts the photo of the dress wrapped in a protective pH neutral paper.)


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Yury Toropstov


36 Responses to “yury toropstov – marilyn and i”

  • Interesting how some people picture themselves in the dress, and other not…
    More later …
    Enjoyed it greatly!!!!

  • This is like a fairy tail in a modern photographic language. Congratulations! So good to wake up on Monday and see this essay. You did a very strong conceptual work. Did anyone actually wanted to wear the dress to fell close to Marilyn?

  • Bonjour Yury,

    J’ai découvert votre travail sur SFR et je suis très heureuse de découvrir votre nouveau travail ici.
    J’aime vraiment beaucoup votre concept, l’idée, la présentation… c’est très conceptuel… Félicitations!

    Cordialement, audrey

  • Yury,

    il est étonnant de constater que les personnages portraiturés ne sont jamais seuls à l’image. Que cette petite, toute petite robe, porte un peu l’âme de la star Monroe. Bravo ;o)

    PS : Je comprends bien que le concept est ailleurs, mais une mention (spécifiquement sur un site américain comme Burn) du fait que la (quasi) totalité des sujets est française – dont certains trèèèèès connus – ? La passion qui traverse les océans, tout ça…

  • Un projet qui entre en profondeur dans une tendresse des anonymes comme des célébrités envers Marilyn. A mesure que la série se dévoile, le dénominateur commun aux regards de tous ces gens devient lui même la présence de Marilyn. Comme si elle apparaissait au fil des portraits, déposant chez chacun un peu de sa fragilité, de son souvenir.
    Bravo encore!

  • Some people ‘give’ good portrait; yes I typed it that way to sound that way ;-). For the people that can’t give good portraits there are great portrait photographers out there that can tease the honest surrender out. I’m fascinated with portrait photographers because if this, so I’ve thought loads about them.

    There are enough portraits in this project to remind me of what I like about portrait photographers and to sympathise with just how hard a project like this would be, but sadly to also sympathise that many people think portraits are as easy as good lighting and an interesting face; such a fallacy.

    For me the magic of a portrait is felt best with your portrait of Jerome dAlmeida. When I read the words ‘to hold the dress of Marilyne during a photoshoot is like to flirt with a ghost’ was an interesting sentiment on it’s own, but to see the portrait that followed sent those words right to the area of my spine just behind my neck and I was snapped into that spell.

    There are a few other portraits in this series like Jerome’s, that make me think I’m not just reading the person’s sentiment and then ‘seeing’ the person that said it. These are the few portraits that seeing the person’s portrait is to feel that person saying those words at me, and I’m an audience suddenly of those words and they don’t even need to be looking at the camera to hear them; the relationship they are showing with the dress says it all. Veronique Guillamaud’s portait is like this for me.

    That being said, I’m not naïve, and I know that a great portrait (or the reasons we think a portrait is great) is not always honest. Maybe my most favourite portrait of all times, Dorothea Lange’s has some challenges to the original words assigned to it, not dubious, but different, but those different words don’t shake even a bit of the power of that portrait. So I guess I’m saying I don’t care if portraits are honest as long as I think them to be (for example I like Cindy Sherman allot, but I would be hard pressed to like allot a book of Cindy Sherman portraits, if that makes sense)

    This is the first for me on Burn, for a pure dose of portraits, and I enjoyed it. I don’t think every portrait actualised, but I think most portraits gave us some voyeuristic tickle and always an un-contrived confessional sentiment. That’s a tremendous feat in itself. Congratulations Yury. I would love to have a dinner party attended by people like me, people interested in teasing out a portraits, and make you the guest of honour; with every course you could let us know the play-byplay detail of one of your sitters/adventures.

    Best wishes,


  • Yury-
    a wonderful piece of work, very heartfelt it seems.
    unique and interesting.
    I really like the portraits alone, and the words and music add nice dimension.

    i imagine Ms. Monroe would/does love this.


  • ohmygod…speechless, shaky…

    i can’t write more yet..i want to watch this at least ten more times..

    *with a lump in my throat*

    thank you for this


  • delicious..
    I love the way the dress
    became alive,
    the different relationships to it,
    strong presentation,
    great imagery,
    wonderful concept!!

  • Joe, you write beautifully and embody a lot of the feelings I experienced when viewing this work. To say that “..there are great portrait photographers out there that can tease the honest surrender out” is so completely accurate and concise, and exactly the wording I wish I used. And I was also “snapped into that spell” as my eyes and heart soaked up these images into my consciousness and experience.

    This is such an interesting idea with a beautiful execution. American iconography is something that has always fascinated me, and the idea to be able to relate the one of “the” ultimate icons is a chance none of us ever think we will have the opportunity to encounter.

    Women and girls of all ages will always hold a fantasy about Marilyn Monroe; she was the essence of femininity as she oozed sex and class and the pinnacle idea of what we would like to achieve as women: all men wanted her and all women wanted to be her. She seemed untouchable, always walking slightly beyond reach, yet she was so relatable and seemed like the girl next door. And in photographs, even though it is her representation through image, she makes you feel like you are the only person in the world…those eyes, direct upon you, peering into all of us, undressing us in every capacity, checking our guards at the door. Such magic this woman possessed, and it’s something we all wanted and want to encapsulate and be a part of; we would surrender our secrets without her even having to ask, yet we still know nothing more of her…her mystery and power is intriguing and intoxicating… and this is why I think her legacy endures.

    Yury, I love this work. Although I feel as though some of the imagery is a little repetitive (the way the subjects are holding the dress), I still can relate to it and have my own fantasy about the dress when viewing these images. I would have maybe liked to have seen some of them dancing with the dress, or (dare I even suggest…) try the dress on…I can understand if that was not permitted, but…if I was one of the models, those two things would have been my first instinct. I would want to put the dress on and feel that magic…what did Marilyn feel like when she wore the dress, and is it flattering on me like it was on her? Can I channel the woman’s intoxicating appeal and demure demeanor by not only being around the dress, but by being in it. Or, I would want to bring on the andogeny, slick my locks back, dress in a tux, and woo this dress on the dance floor…yes, women not only want to be her, but also want her, too….in any capacity, just to get a taste of anything about her…

    What a successful essay. You brought me into your fantasy about her, and I was totally taken in. Bravo, and keep on creating. Amazing.

  • speechless…thanks for the journey through your photos and words…

  • Joe,

    You are so right,Portrait photography is an incredible art apart from the technical aspects.

    I use to assist a great portrait photographer, as soon as a subject came to the studio his attention was solely on that person, I was left to do the techi stuff, he would joke with them make them feel good, relax them so he could have that same rapport when he had the camera in his hand.

    But on another occasion when photographing Ronnie Regan, he wanted to get through the facade of the public presentation, so he asked Ronnie about his mother, bingo the fences were down for two seconds, job done. The portrait was done in probably 1 minute, the shuffled out. It was a corker.

    Its about building rapport have a look at http://strobist.blogspot.com/2008/05/interview-platon-and-putin.html

  • Yury, in creating this love letter to Marilyn you have brought the essence of her magic back to life. What a poignant presentation! I will return to this essay many times and send links of it to friends and family. It is a beautiful song in image, word and sound. Very fitting for Marilyn Monroe who, in my adolescent years was the epitome of womanly beauty and sensuality.


  • Sorry about me pervious post… forgot to say great concept and great execution.

  • As a set of Pictures they do not speak to me. There is one strong[for me] shot, the black guy. The rest I feel hangs on the ‘devcice’ used to hold it all together ie the dress. It is interesting, i guess, how many people seem to identify in some way with miss jean, but i am looking first and foremost at pictures here and they are not strong enough to carry the weight of a ‘so called’ Icon[again, to me.]


  • An intriguing set of pictures, for sure. Not my cup of tea though.

  • Thank you everyone for your feedback which is very helpful. “Marilyn and I” is a work in progress. What you see here is a bit less than a half of the exisiting portfolio.

    Lassal: It’s true. I noticed that too. Most of the women “put it on” trying to see if they fit in MM’s size while most of the men hold the dress at a stretched hands distance from their body.

    Audrey Bardou : Merci, Audrey. Très content de vous retrouvez ici. A très bientôt et bonne continuation.

    Joe: Thank you! I hope this project will become a book one day which will tell all those details behind each portrait. There are delicious ones :)

    Carrie Roseman: There were two models in the project who were authorized by the owner of the dress to put it on. Those photos are not in this slideshow. One of them is a girl of 14 who perfectly fit into the dress waist-wise but who (understandably so) could fill the dress in the upper part. You’re right, there are very few people now who knew MM as a person. Most of the models relate to her image, and it’s interesting to see what this 14 year old girl sees in MM today? Her myth seems to be able to cross the generations. The only person who I was able to photograph and who knew MM is Douglas Kirkland. He photographed MM in 1961. Douglas gave me 1 hour of his precious time and it was wonderful to talk to him about his own shoot with the dress owner.

    Patricia Lay-Dorsey: Thank you! It’s a love letter to MM’s fans too, in a way. At some point the dress which repeats itself from frame to frame becomes unnoticeable and what we see is the person who holds it. All photos were taken at people’s homes or work places. I wanted to use their personal environment to give more details about them (books they read, etc).

    Thank you again!

  • Interesting Ian, and Ironic, half-way through reading your post i started thinking about sending you the interview on Putin! One of my favourite portrait collection stories of all time!! I can actually feel what it must have been like to sit and wait and wonder!! We need to catch up on the phone soon, i’m certain we cross paths without even knowing about it :-)

  • Yury… We have to wait for the boook?? come on?, throw us just one story, you don’t have to give us the names or the places ;-)

  • It’s a gentle essay, nostalgic, with a great concept behind: a very original work, well executed, but… in some way I would have preferred stronger, more dramatic images, more focused on the dress as an “holy” relic and on the emotion of each person reacting to it (I am thinking about “staged” portraits, here) than on the depiction of the different environments. Just seeing the dress laying on a couch is not working for me: the stronger images are those of the two naked persons covered by the dress and the insurance manager with his determined glance, imo.

  • In general, people are very primitive and they always find cult figures for themselves. Media plays a crucial role here. Absolutely ecxellent essay though.

  • Joe

    Great comments. You have given us a lot to think about.

    I can agree with much that has been said here. This is surely a fascinating project from a many different perspectives.

    I must say Yury, For many of the photos, I get more from the quotes than I do from the accomanying portrait. I’m afraid you are not showing me the emotion and power you describe. I have to agree with John that I wish some of the photographs were stronger. There are several that are really outstanding, but some are frankly dissapointing given the opportunity. On their own, stripped of the context, they appear as a collection of curious snaps of people holding up a dress.

    On the positive side, I like several of the images a great deal, I can’t see them at the moment because of my crummy server, but the bare-shouldered woman at the window sticks in my mind for one. There is also lots of impressive stuff on Yurys site, and he’s clearly a capable guy, so maybe I’m missing something.
    I just can’t help thinking that someone

    G Lafleur

  • Sorry for the incomplete thought, I hit submit before I meant to.

    What I was going to say is that I just can’t help thinking that Yurys personal obsession with Marilyn perhaps interfered with him realizing this opportunity fully. while the photos no doubt operate as personal momentos of the whole experience for Yury, and fascinating documents for those fascinated by Marilyn, as a group I feel that they don’t carry enough weight to get past that point.

    Just a thought, maybe some of us should take turns pretending to be Jim. I miss him.

    Gordon L.

  • Sorry, one last thing.

    Absolutely love the opening with the three shots of the dresses and the visual reference to the famous cheeky shots with her dress blowing up.

  • i’m with mr gladdy here. lost interest pretty quickly.

    (for me) it’s a pretty weak concept, with not particularly good portraits to back it up. the main aesthetic problem for me is that they are all “well lit” – but in a completely uninteresting way. its like looking at lots of editorial portraits by competent bu uninspired photographers from a sunday colour supplement, one after another.

    the design elements of the slideshow are poor. really bad font, and badly laid out.

    sorry to be so harsh, but this is how i saw it.

    a tutor of mine used to ask the question “why should i care?” when critiquing our work.. i dreaded and hated that question, but in some ways it has relevance. why should i care about a bunch of people who think they have a connection with a dead celebrity?

  • i’m in with gladdy and roberts on this one.. it doesn’t really touch me..

    competent portraits which would, as ben says, suit a sunday supplement.. in that context i would probably enjoy it more.. half drunk after a big sunday roast..

    the gushing comments about Marilyns relationship to the subjects makes me sad for the celebrity obsessed culture we live in.
    some of them are.. well.. odd to say the least and i found myself quickly not caring what they thought about her..

    her life was tragic.. used.. abused.. discarded..
    i can see that this is a tribute of sorts and in that sense it achieves something.. for me though it is a sad indication of the state of affairs we now live in, where a dead celebrity is perceived as a friend by complete strangers.


  • David and Ben and John, your posts together make me giggle at something that was said years and years ago somewhere in a place far away when a discussion popped up on Garry Winogrand’s Camera.

    I remember distinctly two things about that discussion.

    1.) Me thinking, Wow look at how all the metal is worn off from Garry’s thumb advancing the film, jeez, I think it would be really cool to hold the camera that Garry solved all those cluttered compositions with (I still feel it would be cool to hold that camera!) and

    2.) the second thing I remember to my enthusiastic response was John Gladdy basically saying ‘So What!, it’s a camera! Get over it!

    I suppose that sums it up ;-) Love ya John!


    i thought i was being cleverly paradoxical (obviously not) by publishing these two posts simultaneous….

    dead celebrity apparel vs. living victim apparel …….with neither person “there”….

    i thought surely someone would pick up on that one as a conversation “take off” point…or, maybe it was just too obvious to mention….

    hey, i am Euro jet lagged and was up at 2am sweeping the floor, so forgive the early morning ramble…

    cheers, david

  • ah haaa :o)

    hope you had a good stay over this way david..

    i was being slow.. been doing 12 hours infront of the computor editing the past couple of days..
    flickering eyes.
    the living victim apparel was so much more moving.. although the dead celebrity apparel gets some people much more excited.


  • yep, missed that as well, but good to hear the wizard is pulling levers behind the curtain ;-)

  • Actually I did not miss it. But I thought it was a coincidence.

  • Being a huge Marilyn fan myself..this really hits home. I think it’s beautiful.

  • Some Good News…Life magazine photographs are now available on it’s website:


    And I found a gallery on Marilyn there, before she was Marilyn…


    There are other galleries on her too…May be you guys already knew about these, but I just wanted to share

  • So french…. All these people feeding off the myth/idea of (Marylin), thinking they speak of her, flesh, soul and bones. Pays amoureux des idees.

    Yet, I am not sure the times are anymore about idealizing people become icons (but not quite myths, though in France we use both words similarly) , and being in love with a sublimized (de-)incarnation. Sounds too deja-entendu and trivial for me. Party chit-chat.

    DAH, is that another of your clever paradoxes :-) ? an essay from Audrey about people she knows so privately, but says very very few words about (words do not need), and Yuri’s, about an icon which is nothing but public, and unleashes from people words of personal love/amity.

  • I meant: (words we do not need)

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