Exhibition Review: Yul Brynner - A Photographic Journey

 Audrey Hepburn in Venice, 1965 © Estate of Yul Brynner

Better known for his roles in film and on stage, Yul Brynner also belonged to the small club of actors that maintained a photographic passtime throughout their careers. A Photographic Journey, curated by Brynner’s daughter Victoria, showcases some of these efforts, the focus typically being on some of the twentieth century’s most renowned film stars at work and leisure. 

Victoria theorises that her father’s prolific output - some 8000 images in total - was his way of staying creative while working, having preceded his acting career with directorial roles. Indeed, the images go far beyond simple film stills or behind-the-scenes moments, showing Brynner’s deep appreciation for the scenery around him, human and otherwise.

This exhibition, at London's The Little Black Gallery, describes itself as intimate, and this is certainly true: comprising just 19 images, all taken within the space of 12 years, it isn't much of a journey (admittedly, the exhibition’s title is derived from the accompanying four-volume book series, whose scope is far greater). It does, however, include work which marries moments of spontaneity with creative merit: a portrait of Ingrid Bergman on the set of 1961's Goodbye Again brilliantly captures her playful yet shy, while another shows a beaming Frank Sinatra emerging from a helicopter, cocktail in hand.

Some of the more personal moments are reserved for Brynner's friend Elizabeth Taylor, while others take the focus away from friends and colleagues, and shift to Brynner’s surroundings. I can't help feeling though that as with some of the other portraits, much of this work falls into one of two camps: appearing either lacking in intention or, conversely, too contrived. This is a shame, as Brynner has created far stronger images, presumably omitted from this exhibition for the sake of maintaining a sense of cohesion with the other work.

If you’re in or around the Chelsea area in London this (free) exhibition is worth a visit, particularly as the gallery also plays host to a small, permanent collection of Bob Carlos Clarke’s work (whose wife co-founded the gallery following Clarke’s death). Prints and other media are also available for purchase.

Yul Brynner: A Photographic Journey runs until 11 February, at The Little Black Gallery, London. For more information visit www.thelittleblackgallery.com

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 68
Carl Sanders
By Carl Sanders (Jan 29, 2012)

Bob Carlos Clarke? Now your'e talking!

By Lawrence33 (Jan 29, 2012)

"Me thinks the KING protest to much."
I make my living in photography so watch it.
Hepburn looks great! She always did.

Charles King
By Charles King (Jan 25, 2012)

Oh look, a snapshot of Audrey Hepburn ... yawn. And look, he was channelling the series HCB did of Chanel the previous year, and stuck her right at the bottom of the frame - how original...

I suppose there are people out there who find celebrities utterly fascinating and will go crazy about them, but photos of film stars are tedious enough even when they're taken by a proper photographer.

1 upvote
Greg Short
By Greg Short (Jan 24, 2012)

Looks Brilliant I would love to see it, but Australia is a long way from Chelsea!!!

By MPA1 (Jan 24, 2012)

Yes - same from Wellington!!

I wonder if they will have the images online?

Comment edited 23 seconds after posting
Ibida Bab
By Ibida Bab (Jan 23, 2012)

One of the great things about what we like to do. Take that time travel back and see what Yul Brynner saw. I love it, I wish they will make this a travelling show. Hey, pls. bring it to Santa Fe.

By AbrasiveReducer (Jan 23, 2012)

Look, there is a distinction between cameras and photography and this site is about cameras. If the discussion of photo equipment is not of interest to you, you should expect to be dissapointed here.

Having taught photography at the college level I can tell you that if you think dpreview's discussions are pointless, you should sit in on a graduate photography class, where you can take a great image, that requires no explanation, and spend hours theorizing about what it all means.

1 upvote
By jorepuusa (Jan 23, 2012)

Cameras are light tight boxes only, pictures come from the mind of a human being. Without that mind, there would be no pictures any other human being would like to watch. There would be only pictures of pillow distortion or noise. WHO`d like to watch those???? A talented photographer can make astonishing pictures with a few euros disposable cam, pictures that no one with 10 thousand euros cam could never make without visual ideas.
There would be no cameras without the real will to make pictures that speak. Cameras and pictures are one. But pictures are more than the cameras. Cams are only boxes and people have been drawing for thousands of years.
You have not taught photography anywhere if You dare not tell your name and You write what You write above.

Jore Puusa
Helsinki, Finland.

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
Gerard Hoffnung
By Gerard Hoffnung (Jan 23, 2012)

If this is a site about equipment, why is there a category named Photo Techniques that has articles such as Landscape Photography Primer, Introduction to Food Photography and many more. I certainly consider dpreview to be about much more than gear.

By Gesture (Jan 23, 2012)

Yes, a book on celebrity photographers would be interesting. When life was simpler, many "stars" carried cameras. Besides the ones already mentioned, I've seen work from John Wayne, Grace Kelly, Elvis, all good.

By Vladik (Jan 23, 2012)

One of the best Artists of all time and of Russian decent! :)

1 upvote
By Gregm61 (Jan 23, 2012)

I have the coffee table book on his work. Pretty impressive. Tons of images that he both shot and people shot of him in the process of taking pictures, from him off set to him dressed the part during the shooting of the Ten Commandments. There's one of him dressed as the Pharoah, taking a shot of Charlton Heston as a slave with his Leica M. There were shots of him with 4-5 cameras around his neck, from Leica M's to SLR's with longer lenses.

A fun book to have.

MP Burke
By MP Burke (Jan 23, 2012)

Thanks for posting this information. I was unaware of the existence of this gallery.
I was planning to visit the exhibition of Don McCullin at Tate Britain and will try to get to this gallery as well.

Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Jan 23, 2012)

What sorts of cameras and film would YB have used? Leica, Contax, Argus? What as the premier compact range finder of the 1950s?

How do I find a publisher for a four-volume deluxe collection of my 8,000 pictures of relatives, critters, boy toys, seedy streescapes, flowers, tourist traps, and non-celebs?

Studios once hired (and perhaps still do hire) photographers to shoot publicity stills or pictures to use in the story boards. What were the favored cameras for that purpose in the 30s-50s Golden Age?

Paul Farace
By Paul Farace (Jan 23, 2012)

From the many photos I've seen of Yule behind the scenes, he had every toy his lavish paycheck could afford (although he is reputed to have been a tightwad about picking up tabs, according to some in the pack)... have seen him with Leica Ms, Rolleiflexes, etc. Other celeb photogs include Moe Howard, an avid stereoist, Sammy Davis Jr., big camera nut!; they have the time, the access to interesting people and locals, and the moola to have the gear.

By jorepuusa (Jan 23, 2012)

This is sadly a gear forum only. It could be a photography forum.
Those who claim to be photographers will never understand that gear does not take pictures by itself. The pictures start in brains, not in Photoshop or in camera. New pictures look the same -shot by the gear only "SBGO" 99% of modern pictures are plagiarism of effects.
Photography is dead cause people tend to believe that a new camera that´s coming to shops next May is going to make them photographers at last. It does not, even it has no noise. But who photographs noise?
While continuing this forever going search of "camgod", "photographers" kill the real photography, which isabout feelings, visual skills and maybe even some thinking.
And when someone criticizes "technographers" --they fight the thinker, no-one is allowed to think differently.Only "wonderfullcolorsgreatcapturecongrats" stuff is accepted.

By M1963 (Jan 24, 2012)

Agreed. Equipment is a means to help the photographer express his photographic intention, not an end in itself. Or at least this is how it should be. As Cartier-Bresson once wrote, technique is important, but only in that it has to be mastered in order to allow the photographer to express himself... anyway, people care too much about technique, and less with seeing. I think this pretty much sums this argument.

Colin Dunjohn
By Colin Dunjohn (Jan 23, 2012)

Maybe I missed it but what about Leonard Nimoy -brilliant photographer.


Good photography= one or all of the below
Interesting subject matter
Interesting composition
Interesting light

But above all you have to be there to take the picture. Yul Brynner was there so even if his lighting and composition is not great he is going to nail it every time on subject matter. I mean all those famous actresses coming out of his bedroom in the mornings etc etc. Perfect candid opportunities.

The man is a legend-why wouldn't you be interested in his photography.

Zvonimir Tosic
By Zvonimir Tosic (Jan 23, 2012)

Don't worry folks. To vast majority of audience on DPR, heavily enhanced photography that fills up today's advertising billboards and wedding industry catalogues is the climax of creativity and established taste.

Such audience can't even understand what it meant to photograph people in some different times, because their subjects in photographs today are not people, or even landscape, but gear.

'The Nikon look', 'The Leica look', 'This lens look', 'This effect look', and such utter nonsense.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
By 00112233 (Jan 23, 2012)

Good news about Yul Brynner. If he took some shots while filming "The Magnificent Seven" one of my favorite western films, then the exhibition should be extremely interesting indeed!

By Danny (Jan 23, 2012)

I took a whole bunch of these photographs when I was in Venice. Hepburn wasn't in it but still..

By M1963 (Jan 23, 2012)

I know who you're talking about, Robbster. The best thing to do is to ignore him. He's been commenting just about all articles here at dpreview. He has hitherto been just annoying, but now he's started insulting people. He desperately needs attention. He is a sad, disturbed person; he'd make an interesting case study for a clinical psychiatric symposium. The worst thing we can do is to dignify his comments with replies.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By olyflyer (Jan 23, 2012)

Just a short while ago, on the Olympus SLR Talk forum, I learned that he was a photographer. His images are special and I wish I could be in London before the close the exhibition to see it. I have seen several of his images on the Internet but would be great to see them in prints.

By Robbster (Jan 23, 2012)

I've been on dpreview for MANY years, but SOME folks are getting out of hand here on the forums with rude and in some cases just plain asinine behavior. You, with the superior attitudes who are sure you know SO much, who the heck do you think you are??? No, really, who are you to bring the level of discussion down to such a low level?

Respect for different points of view is required for civil discourse.

Therefor, I say, please cool it, oh rude and pretentious ones, and make room for folks who want to discuss the topics at hand with a reasonable amount of respect for one another and the topics themselves.

By Msongs (Jan 23, 2012)

my Yul B story - worked for a messenger that delivered tickets to the academy awards show. had to take some to him backstage at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood when he was doing the King and I. Got thru all the security and met him face to face and I was so excited to meet him that I forgot his tickets in my truck!! Well I was freaking out but he laughed and laughed that famous laugh of his and hugged me. so I went back and got the tickets and laughed some more. What a class act and I have always loved his best movies.


1 upvote
By sgmoct (Jan 24, 2012)

I have a Yul Brynner encounter as well. :)
My husband was a stagehand for a road production of The King and I, and we were invited to a party at a house Yul was renting overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I was hanging out in the kitchen with my husband and other actors from the show, and I looked over to my right and there was Yul Brenner, leaning against the kitchen counter, looking at me. He then walked up to me and said "Hi, I'm Yul Brynner" and shook my hand. At that time, I wasn't into photography like I am now, but I'd like to think, for that moment he was looking at me, that he was maybe thinking, I'd be a good subject for a photo. (wink)

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 13 minutes after posting
By halgo (Jan 23, 2012)

i remember seeing yul brunner in the king and i on the stage in new york when I was a child living there.

Hal Goldberg
Laguna Woods, CA

Comment edited 40 seconds after posting
The Lazy Photographer
By The Lazy Photographer (Jan 23, 2012)

I'd be interested in checking out Yul's shots, if for no other reason than to see if they stand on their own or are supported in part by his fame. Plus, I love old photographs from that era. Given the choice, however, I'd rather see an exhibit of Vivian Maier's work.


Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
By Chinoy (Jan 22, 2012)

I remember Yul Brynner did a commercial for Fujifilm. I didn't know he was an avid photographer. Nice to know now. I liked his role in 'The Ten Commandments'. He died of lung cancer and before he died he made a tv ad telling people not to smoke. It was really hard to do in his position at that time. It gained my respect for him. In this digital age we need the art and savvy of the old film days. Thanks, dpreview for sharing the knowledge and work of a great man.

Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Jan 23, 2012)

Yul Rulz!

James A Rinner
By James A Rinner (Jan 22, 2012)

Let's get this straight. If I take a photograph of a man standing on top of a famous actress' head then someone will write a book about my photography skills when I am dead?

Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Jan 23, 2012)

No, because you were probably stupid.

Doug Frost
By Doug Frost (Jan 23, 2012)

No, you will never get close enough to a famous actress to be able to take a shot remotely like that, and even if you were lucky enough to get close she wouldn't be relaxed and your shot would suck. Besides, you'd probably be beaten to a bloody pulp by her bodyguards before you could press the shutter release. Now you begin to see why Brynner's photographs of stars are special and yours could never be.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 7 minutes after posting
Don Simons
By Don Simons (Jan 22, 2012)

It must be the off season.Trying to sell overpriced prints from the Hollywood star system is about as interesting as those name dropping people you meet at corporate functions. Nothing to do with digital photography but it would be good to hear from a professional photographer regarding the the merits of Yul's composition etc.Trying not to be flippant but who can we expect next, Buster Keaton's Kodaks, George Formby's Ilfords? Any suggestions?

1 upvote
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (Jan 23, 2012)

Your used toilet papers perhaps?

Doug Frost
By Doug Frost (Jan 23, 2012)

So, as far as I can tell you're saying that we should disparage Yul Brynner's photography because he was a Hollywood star and therefore couldn't possibly be a good photographer. And that we're not qualified to judge his artistic merits on our own and should wait for a professional photographer to tell us what our opinion should be. Do I have that right?

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
Tom Goodman
By Tom Goodman (Jan 23, 2012)

No, he's saying JUST THE OPPOSITE.

Doug Frost
By Doug Frost (Jan 23, 2012)

No, Tom, he's not.

1 upvote
By Charlie3 (Jan 22, 2012)

"...her, playful..." :)

By carlgt1 (Jan 22, 2012)

This is neat, I may be in London and will check it out. They seem more cute snapshots (looks like he was a Leica user, not a surprise) with the main advantage his access to the stars of the day. It is funny there's so few comments here vs. the Nikon J1. Maybe they should have a show of Aston Kutcher's J1 shots? ;-)

By Anfy (Jan 22, 2012)

Interesting, I did not know of the photographic skills of Yul Brynner.
However, the permanent collection of Bob Carlos Clarke is great news, since he was a marvellous photographer.

Mac McCreery
By Mac McCreery (Jan 22, 2012)

I shall go, yes equipment is an obsession with many. And, yes, I guess Yul had access to stars that many would envy. But there is history here, an important record.
Flippant comments are a true reflection on the poster....

By M1963 (Jan 22, 2012)

At 15h45 this Sunday, this article had 7 comments. The Nikon J1/V1 review had 326. People care more about gear than photography. Am I alone when I say it should be the opposite?

Jean Ulrich Brer
By Jean Ulrich Brer (Jan 22, 2012)

many people care more about hardware(greed) instead of actual emotional content these days.

By tonywong (Jan 22, 2012)

The exhibition is in London, which may limit the comments and interest on Mr. Brynner's work, in the context of this post.

Also the history of DPreview itself has been a gear oriented site so the recent addition of user submittable articles and artist profiles are definitely going to take more time to get used to.

By alfredo_tomato (Jan 22, 2012)

Everybody is at the Man U/Arsenal match.

Gordon W
By Gordon W (Jan 22, 2012)

DPR is a gear site, not a photography site, hence the greater interest by people here to the Nikon J1/V1 than photos shot by a celebrity of other celebrities. And that IMO is those photos only claim to fame. If an unknown had shot them of unknown people, those photos would be languishing in some archive somewhere, worthless.

By Marty4650 (Jan 22, 2012)

Gordon is absolutely right.

Lets just say Henri Cartier-Bresson is safe, and this exhibition is for people who "worship celebrities" more than they "worship gear."

The few photos I saw from Brynner were good, but nothing spectacular. But I suppose the same could be said for all our photos....

By ksgant (Jan 22, 2012)

Well, 99.99% of photographers have their photos languishing in some archive somewhere, worthless.

The amount of good photographers in the world are in the millions now. The amount of great photographers is even in the 10's of thousands. The amount of master photographers are even in the thousands. Nothing really stands out now a days. Heck, go over to 500px and there are tons and tons and tons of good photos there from thousands of different people that are almost all unknown.

Very very VERY few photographers become actually famous outside of photography. It's just the way things are now. The world is saturated with them.

By Peiasdf (Jan 22, 2012)

This article is actually date two days after the J1/V1 review. You cannot compare at this point yet.

In addition, there are no link to the photos in the article itself. What are you going to comment on?

By landscaper1 (Jan 22, 2012)

If your ability to produce artful photographs is limited, you can always obsess about the cameras and lenses. There's no talent required to do that.

By Jackson22 (Jan 23, 2012)

Maybe because more member here are younger n have only heard or seen yul brynner in passing? To them he's not in their radar.

Doug Frost
By Doug Frost (Jan 23, 2012)

Context is everything. Brynner's photographs are fascinating because he had a decent eye and the shots are a unique insider's view of the great stars of the 50s and 60s taken at unguarded moments. And that one of Sinatra exiting a Bell helicopter while holding a glass of scotch is absolutely priceless.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
Louis Dallara
By Louis Dallara (Jan 22, 2012)

Interest take on his work, I didn't know he was a photog.

By Mustafa (Jan 22, 2012)

He obviously had privileged access to famous people, but only average photographic talents, IMHO.

By sfa1966 (Jan 22, 2012)

A few more are here if you are interested:

Ian Leach
By Ian Leach (Jan 22, 2012)

If you want to see all the images, just go to the pricing part of their website. I like the photos but £3000 for a £10 print seems expensive to me but if you buy into the idea of limited editions I suppose you’ll be happy with it.

By fmian (Jan 22, 2012)

The few photos of his that flick by on that link are simply amazing.
Would like to see more as well.

1 upvote
John Mackay
By John Mackay (Jan 22, 2012)

I wish I could afford to fly to London to see this exhibition. I was so sad at his passing. I remember Yul Brynner mainly for his portrayal of the rogue cowboy in the movie Westworld and for for his role in the TV anti-smoking campaign when I was a kid (I'm 50 now) His words still ringing in my ears "Whatever you do, don't smoke." I never knew he was an avid photographer. I wish some of these exhibitions could make it online so to speak so everyone could enjoy them.

By Zvonko (Jan 22, 2012)

I'm 46. Don't smoke anymore. I tell everyone about that campain. Just like to know that proceedsa are going to his family rather than agents or any other kind of blood suckers.

By zakaria (Jan 22, 2012)

first time to know that he was a photographer.I like his films and his style.

By EA4BL (Jan 22, 2012)

Wish I were in London and yes, certainly, people cares much more abt equipment than photography. A pity.

By Footski (Jan 22, 2012)

I may get some flak for this, but I am appalled. Yul Brynner was one of my favourite actors, but his photographs in terms of technical quality are average at best. His subject matter was I admit superb, but an exhibition of only 19 avearge photos, is not my idea of a quality exhibition. Add to that a price of 3000 pounds sterling per print and I am stunned..

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By contadorfan (Jan 22, 2012)

re Brynner's average skills, don't forget the rest of the world outside of photography enthusiasts can't take good pictures at all. Brynner's photos are still good enough for the average person to enjoy. It's fun, too, to have a glimpse of a famous person's world. Glamorous subject matter, celebrity photographer, nostalgia for a cinematic heyday, sounds like a good exhibit to me.

Westworld! I'd forgotten about that movie. I'd like to see it again.

1 upvote
By coronawithlime (Jan 22, 2012)

Regarding the comments about this forum having more content relating to photographic gear than photographs, I was under the impression that this was a gear forum.

f bass
By f bass (Jan 23, 2012)

He was the first cool bald guy!!

innokenty Lebedev
By innokenty Lebedev (Jan 23, 2012)

I also remember his TV commercial, saying "Now that I'm gone, I tell you don't smoke." What's more interesting for me though is the fact that he was born in my hometown - Vladivostok, Russia!

By Pr0peller (Jan 23, 2012)

contadorfan, re your observation that "the world outside of photography enthusiasts can't take good pictures at all": the vast majority of professionals and enthusiasts do bad photography.

Comment edited 44 seconds after posting
Total comments: 68