LIFE : Alfred Eisenstaedt - Augustus John
You are 94 years-old. Is there anyone that you didn't photograph that you wished you had?
I never photographed Indira Gandhi, and I wanted to photograph Mrs. Thatcher but couldn't get permission. I have been in every state except North Dakota. I have never been in Russia. I've never been in China. The first time I went to Vienna was only several years ago. Never been in Hungary.
Did you ever turn down an assignment?
I don't think so. If it is bad assignments, I do it anyway. You know, on bad assignments sometimes the pictures come out nice, and on good assignments sometimes only poor pictures come out of it.
Many think that your best story was on distinguished Englishmen.
When I did the story on distinguished Britons, I did 28 people in 11 days. Sometimes it took only three minutes. We could do the painter Augustus John only when we told him it wouldn't take more than 10 minutes. I photographed very fast. George Trevelyan was a very short time. The philosopher Bertrand Russell—when I commented that I have never seen such a stony, immovable face, he said to me, “A crocodile moves very slowly.” Gilbert Murray, the great classicist who was 89 years old. It was November. He was sitting in Cambridge, warming in the sun. I was there a half an hour. With the Very Reverend Martin Cyril D’Arcy, I spent some time. He had a very aesthetic face, wonderful face. The English people look very different, say, compared to Russian people. They are very drawn, you know, compared to Russians, who have the round faces.
What do you say to your subjects? What do you talk about?
Oh, that's very funny. I just don't remember.
What did you say to Marilyn Monroe?
I didn't say too much, you know. I asked the man in charge of our Life magazine office in Beverly Hills whether he knows Marilyn Monroe, and he says yes. “I'd like to photograph her,” I said. “Can you make a call?”
She said, “Boys, come right over.” It was very easy. I got along fine with her. I didn't know very much about her at that time, but she was very famous. She was a coming up actress. It was before she married Joe DiMaggio. I have pictures of where she sits on my lap too—and I sit on her lap. That type of thing.
(Interviewed on January 8, 1992. Excerpted from: John Loengard, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, Boston, A Bullfinch Press Book, 1998)