Lisl Steiner, Photographer Who Glimpsed Luminaries Up Close, Dies at 95

Lisl Steiner, a flamboyant photojournalist who was celebrated for her intimate, emotive images of history-tilting figures like Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as luminaries of music, stage and sports, died on June 7 in Mount Kisco, N.Y. She was 95.

Her death, at a hospital, was confirmed by her friends Ingrid Rockefeller and Vivian Winther, who had been collaborating with her on a documentary about her life.

Shooting for publications like Newsweek, Time, Life and National Geographic, Ms. Steiner was known for her flashy attire, her trademark explosion of fiery red hair, her sassy personality and her knack for connecting with her subjects, whom she jokingly referred to as “victims.”

“She had the ability to upend her subjects with surprising questions and her electric presence,” Ms. Rockefeller said in a phone interview. “She almost insinuated herself into the photograph by drawing a laugh or a glimpse of kindness in the eyes of her subject.”

Or shock. In a memorable 1957 shot taken backstage at the Teatro Colón, the main opera house in Buenos Aires, she captured a look of surprise on the face of a shirtless Louis Armstrong. As Ms. Steiner often recalled in later years, Ms. Rockefeller said, the photo was taken moments after the jazz great had made a pass at her and she had playfully shot him down.

Ms. Steiner carried herself not only as an intimate of her subjects, but also as an equal, no matter how monumental in stature — or how notorious — that subject was. She produced many enduring shots of strongmen like Castro, the Cuban president; Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile; and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

“Photographing dictators was always my strength,” she said in a 2006 interview with The New York Times. “I told them what to do — stand up, turn left — and they listened.”

By capturing so many luminaries of the 20th century in unguarded moments backstage, in hotel rooms, in limousines or on city streets, Ms. Steiner produced photographs that transcended deadline photojournalism and rose to the level of fine portraiture, said Lawrence Schiller, a photojournalist friend.

One such shot, from 1973, depicted the blues musician B.B. King lounging in the bed of a Philadelphia hotel wearing disheveled pajamas, looking weary but at ease, with a pipe in hand. Another showed Nat King Cole, the “Unforgettable” crooner, looking bored at a public barbecue, seemingly too crowd-weary to bother whisking away the flies that had landed on his shoulder and forehead.

Sometimes even Ms. Steiner’s mistakes produced memorable images. Covering a visit to Argentina by Castro in 1959, she mistakenly loaded an exposed roll of film into her Leica camera, resulting in a haunting double-exposure shot of the Cuban leader dining in a grand home in Buenos Aires, superimposed with the eager faces of the assembled crowd outside.

But Ms. Steiner did not confine her lens work to the corridors of power, or the backstages of fame. In 1959, she began a long-running series called “Children of the Americas,” which chronicled everyday but telling moments in the lives young people from a variety of social strata in North and South America.

One shot depicted a naked Paraguayan child from behind, padding around on a sea of straw hats. Another depicted shoeshine boys from Rio de Janeiro hustling for business on the sands of Copacabana.

She did none of it quietly. On a 1995 visit to her home in Pound Ridge, N.Y., in Westchester County, where she had lived with her husband, Michael Monchek, a psychiatrist, until his death in 1992, a Times reporter noted the orange Pontiac Firebird muscle car parked outside with a champagne cork stuck on its antenna.

It was a fittingly ostentatious ride for a woman who appeared that day in bright orange attire, her arms nearly sagging under the weight of chunky bracelets, rings on every finger.

Wherever she went, she made a statement. “I’ve never encountered anyone like her,” a friend, Samantha Hunt, said in a phone interview. “She lived her life exactly as she wanted to. She would buy lizards at the pet store and liberate them in her home. One time my dog ran away to her house. She called and said: ‘I’ve been feeding him bonbons and belly dancing for him, but he’s getting bored, so I think you should come over and get him.’”

Elise Steiner (“Lisl” was a family nickname that stuck) was born on Nov. 19, 1927, in Vienna, the only child of Arnold and Katrina Steiner. Her father was a sports physical therapist and soccer referee.

Her mother was Jewish, and the family fled to Buenos Aires after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, escaping the concentration camps that claimed many members of her mother’s family.

She studied art at the University of Buenos Aires and spent her early adult years working as an assistant on dozens of documentary films. She also had an active art career, producing pen-and-ink drawings of famous musicians who appeared at the Teatro Colón. She had full access at the opera house because her first husband, Hermann Erhardt, an oboist to whom she was married from 1950 to 1953, was the son of the theater’s director.

A boyfriend gave Ms. Steiner her first camera in 1955. Within a year, Time magazine had published photos she took of Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, the Argentine general who had recently seized power in a military coup, on a fishing excursion on the country’s southern coast.

Her career continued to expand and flourish after she moved to New York City in 1960. She settled in Greenwich Village.

By the 2000s, Ms. Steiner found her work the subject of career retrospectives at the Leica Gallery in New York, the PhotoAlicante art festival in Spain and elsewhere.

Ms. Steiner leaves no immediate survivors.

In her later years, she had returned to drawing, sketching musicians like the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the singer Andrea Marcovicci. Discussing this return to an early passion with The Times in 1995, she slipped off one of her bracelets and held it up.

“My life is now a series of full circles,” she said, “like this bracelet. See, it has no end, always a new beginning, continuous.”

About Webmaster

Mario Milan Junior ,I'm passionate for the online media and marketing ,19 years old ,first year university .Can't Wait to Join My Father this year in Florida ,United States .

Check Also

Review: A Musician’s Portrait, as Both Composer and Pianist

At the beginning of “Cineshape 2,” Williams naturally emphasizes differences among the instruments, like the …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *