At roughly 6am on March 29 1977, Faye Dunaway met with the photographer Terry O’Neill by a pool in Hollywood. O’Neill, who hadn’t slept, had approached the actress at the Oscars rehearsal the previous day and proposed a last-minute photo shoot.
O’Neill’s longtime friend and collaborator Robin Morgan, former editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, tells the FT that the proposition went something like this: “We both know you’re going to win. I want to get something really special to record this . . . I’m staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so are you. Would you come to the pool at 6am when the light’s perfect and there’s no security? I’ll keep it to 10 minutes.”
The resulting shots, with a languid Dunaway wearing a shell-pink robe and metallic stilettos, achieved that rare transcendent feat of photography: escaping the immediate moment and gesturing towards something wider. In this case, the mythology of Hollywood. O’Neill wanted to depict Dunaway’s dawning realisation that her life was about to change for ever. Over the next few years, the two sparked up a relationship and married in 1983.
Something peculiar happened when O’Neill photographed a star. Whether it was Elton John, Spike Lee, Pelé or Amy Winehouse, the subject was both elevated and, at the same time, rendered candidly human. This contradiction shines through in Stars, the upcoming O’Neill show at Fotografiska, New York, spanning six decades of work by the late photographer, who died in 2019.