In 2014, renowned photographer, Sandro Miller, decided to do a project paying homage to his favorite photographers and their famous photos. Miller recruited famed actor John Malkovich as his muse and used him to recreate 35 iconic photos that people today still talk about.
When Miller approached Malkovich with the idea for Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters, he was more than happy to help his friend out. “John is the most brilliant, prolific person I know,” Miller said. “His genius is unparalleled. I can suggest a mood or an idea and within moments, he literally morphs into the character right in front of my eyes. He is so trusting of my work and our process. I’m truly blessed to have him as my friend and collaborator.”
We all know Malkovich is capable of transforming himself into any character. With over 12 nominations, including Academy Awards, he’s one of the great actors of our time and the project emphasized his ability to transform.
The duo recreated the famous photo, “Identical Twins” by Diane Arbus. In a 2005 article from The Washington Post, the twins, Cathleen Mulcahy, left, and Colleen York, admitted that they were still recognized in public. The pair were snapped at a Christmas party by Arbus when they were seven. The two said they didn’t remember anything of the day their photo was taken but they still have the dresses they wore. “We still have them,” York said. “Our mother made them,” Mulcahy added. “They look black in the photograph but they’re actually green.”
A photograph that attracts negative attention to this day is “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano. The photo was of a statue of Jesus submerged in a tank of Serrano’s urine. In 2014, he gave an interview to Huffington Post, where he described the meaning behind the photograph. “The only message is that I’m a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours,” he said. He added that Christ would more than likely have secreted bodily fluids on himself. “So if ‘Piss Christ’ upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning,” he said.
When Arthur Sasse nabbed this photo of Albert Einstein in 1951, several other photographers missed his iconic expression. “Albert Einstein Sticking Out His Tongue” gained fame from its first publication through until today. Einstein was heading home on his 72nd birthday at the time and when he was in the car with his friends, photographers swarmed the car to grab a photo. Einstein had some fun and stuck his tongue out at the cameras. Though Sasse was nervous about publishing the photos at first, Einstein had no issues with them and even asked for several copies. He signed one and it sold for over $100,000 USD earlier this year.
Photographer Jim Marshall captured a famous photo that he once called “probably the most ripped off photograph in the history of the world,” in an interview with the San Francisco Art Exchange in 2011. Though, he provided some insight into the photo as well. While Cash was performing at San Quentin State Prison in 1969, Miller said to Cash, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden’,” and Cash gave Miller the finger.
Back in the good ol’ days when Michael Keaton was Batman and Jack Nicholson was The Joker, Nicholson had some promotional photos taken of him. In 1988, photographer Herb Ritts snapped four photos of him making various facial expressions in his Joker makeup. Here, Malkovich is recreating the second photo in the series.
In 1973, Alfred Hitchcock was meant to headline a piece in Harper’s Bazaar with the headline, “Alfred Hitchcock cooks his own goose.” When photographer, Albert Watson, was brought on to take his photo, he thought it would be funnier if the goose was limp in Hitchcock’s hand. Thus, the famous photo was born. In a 2012 interview with Macleans, Watson recalled how Hitchcock “was like an actor. He brought something to the table. He even did several poses where he pretended to cry.” Since the 70s, Macleans reported that Watson has gone on to convince other notable figures to “bring something to the table.”
Legendary portrait photographer, Annie Leibovitz, took this photo of Meryl Streep for the cover of Rolling Stone in 1981. The photo, simply titled “Meryl Streep,” came at a time when the actress was just starting her career, unnerved by the attention it brought her. In a 2008 interview, Leibovitz remembered how “Meryl was uncomfortable with all the attention she was getting and she canceled the first appointment for the shoot but was finally persuaded to come to my studio for two and half hours one morning. She came in and talked about how she didn’t want to be anybody; she was nobody, just an actress.” She also said that Streep probably felt at ease being allowed to hide under the makeup.
Documentary photographer and photojournalist, Dorothea Lange, took this well-known photo of a migrant mother and her three children. The photo, “Migrant Mother” was taken in 1936 and shows mother Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March in Nipomo, California. Lange did many things for the field of photography, including her work on the consequences of the Depression and her influence on documentary photography.
Photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, also known as Alberto Korda, took this photo of Che Guevara in 1960. Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary who sparked debate during the years of his life and the decades after his death. When Korda caught the photo of him, he recalled, “At the foot of a podium decorated in mourning, I had my eye to the viewfinder of my old Leica camera. I was focusing on Fidel and the people around him. Suddenly, through the 90mm lens, Che emerged above me. I was surprised by his gaze. By sheer reflex I shot twice, horizontal and vertical. I didn’t have time to take a third photo, as Che stepped back discreetly into the second row. It all happened in half a minute.”
In 1946, photographer, Arnold Newman, snapped this iconic photo of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. In an article with American Photo in 2000, Newman admitted that he struggled with how to capture the great composer in a photo. He chose the piano because “it hit me that the lid of a piano is like the shape of a musical, flat symbol – strong, linear, and beautiful, just like Stravinksy’s work.”
Portrait photographer Philippe Halsman took surrealist painter Salvadore Dali’s picture many times throughout the 40s and 50s. One particular photo featured Dali and his infamous mustache alongside his stare. The photo has gone down as one of Dali’s most recognizable.
American author Ernest Hemingway had many portraits taken of him in his lifetime. His work has graced awards lists and university syllabi for years. In 1957, Yousuf Karsh took this photo of the legendary author in his home. Of the encounter, Karsh remembers going to Hemingway’s favorite bar to do some homework on his favorite drink, the daiquiri. “When, at nine the next morning, Hemingway called from the kitchen, ‘What will you have to drink?’ my reply was, I thought, letter-perfect: ‘Daiquiri, sir.’ ‘Good God, Karsh,’ Hemingway remonstrated, ‘at this hour of the day!’”