Gjon Mili: Picturing Greatness

A retrospective on photographer Gjon Mili, widely considered to be one of the most influential of the twentieth century, organized by Dino Korca.

By Albanian Institute New York

Jazz Players (1944-10-10) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Gjon Mili, b. 1904 in Korçë, southern Albania, came to United States in 1923. Best known for the photography published in LIFE magazine, his contribution to culture goes way beyond that. One of the most influential artists of the past century with timeless imagination.

Guys And Dolls (1955) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Classical Hollywood. Actors Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine strolling arm-in-arm in scene from film "Guys and Dolls" captured by Gjon Mili.

"Guys And Dolls" (1955) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Frank Sinatra singing to Vivian Blaine in scene from film "Guys and Dolls."

Guys And Dolls (1955) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Marlon Brando photographed by Gjon Mili in the musical film Guys and Dolls (1955), as he dances his way into the heart of Salvation Army lass Jean Simmons in Mankiewicz’s big movie of the American classic.

Guys And Dolls (1955) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Marlon Brando yawning while waiting between takes during filming "Guys and Dolls" caught by Gjon Mili.

Pablo Picasso 1949-1967 (1949) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Gjon Mili's Portrait of Picasso. The artist bare-chested and smiling, features partially obscured by cigarette smoke. 1949, France.

Picasso Drawing With Light (1949) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Pablo Picasso pictured here by Mili in 1949 painting a centaur with light. This photo was featured in the Jan. 30, 1950 LIFE magazine.

According to LIFE, "The striking photographs on these pages, taken by Gjon Mili, show Picasso's latest and certainly most spectacular medium—drawing in blacked-out space with a flashlight. The idea was suggested by Mili, who got Picasso interested by showing him photographs of trails of light made by Skater Carol Lynne stunting with flashlights on her toes."
Mili's work is about how photography freezes moments, creates prominence, and makes history.

Picasso-Drawing With Light (1949) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Picasso’s light drawings of centaurs, bulls, and human figures disappeared within milliseconds over 70 years ago, but they live on in Mili’s remarkable photographs.

Picasso Drawing With Light (1949) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

According to LIFE, "The striking photographs on these pages, taken by Gjon Mili, show Picasso's latest and certainly most spectacular medium—drawing in blacked-out space with a flashlight. The idea was suggested by Mili, who got Picasso interested by showing him photographs of trails of light made by Skater Carol Lynne stunting with flashlights on her toes." (Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Jam Session (1943) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Billie Holiday closeup by Gjon Mili for a Jam Session at Mili's NYC studio.

By Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

A glimpse of something wonderful. American actress Jane Fonda.

Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor (1963-10-16) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Actress Elizabeth Taylor on location in Mismaloya, Mexico during filming of "The Night of the Lguana".

Arshile Gorky (1945) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Portrait of Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky, hailed as perhaps the most powerful American painter of the 20th century — found hanged in his shed at the age of 46 — here smoking a cigarette, at Gjon Mili's studio in New York, 1945.

"Five Branded Women" (1960) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Actress Jeanne Moreau, star of "Five Branded Women" picture, during her visit in New York.

Alfred Hitchcock (1942) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Alfred Hitchcock on set during filming of "Shadow of a Doubt.

Hitchcock Directing (1942) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Alfred Hitchcock clowning and pointing on set during filming of "Shadow of a Doubt.

Ike And Tina Turner by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Rare and previously unpublished photographs of Tina Turner on stage taken by the great Gjon Mili in 1970. The exact date and location of the shoot is unknown, but her very short miniskirt, way above her knees, with zillions of silver sparklers is unmistakable.

Ike And Tina Turner by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Tina Turner, when she took the stage—no matter where that stage was, and no matter how large or how small the crowd might be—there was simply no restraining on her soulfulness, or her sex appeal.

Ike And Tina Turner by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Her dancing is completely unrestrained, cool, unstoppable. Her presence and energy on stage so intense, so imaginary, so incredible moments impossible to capture in words.

Jazz Players (1944-10-10) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Jammin' the Blues (1944)

Gjon Mili outside his office on Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood, California where he was directing film "Jammin' the Blues" — a jam session with several prominent African-American jazz musicians of the 1940s. In 1995, Jammin' the Blues was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". 

Jazz Players (1944-10-10) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Gjon Mili with Jack L. Warner, head of Warner Bros. Studios on set of "Jammin' the Blues" film being directed by Mili. Hollywood, CA, U.S., 1944.

Jazz Players (1944-10-10) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Mili working on set of ”Jammin' the Blues” film being directed by Mili.

Jazz Players (1944-10-10) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Gjon Mili working with motion picture crew on set of ”Jammin' the Blues” film being directed by Mili.

Jazz Players (1944-10-10) by Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

Gjon Mili on set of motion picture ”Jammin' the Blues” film being directed by him.

Gjon Mili (1981-11-27) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

A Life Well Lived. Gjon Mili died of pneumonia on Feb 14, 1984 at Courtland Gardens, Stamford. He was 79 years old and lived in Manhattan. The French humanist photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson commenting on Mr. Mili's work, said: ''I admire his sense of economy, his respect for craftsmanship and his distaste for pretensions.'' Mr. Mili was survived by a brother and a sister who lived in Bucharest, Rumania.

Credits: Story

The Exhibit featured is organized, curated and edited by Dino Korca.


Made in collaboration with LIFE Photo Collection, and Google Cultural Institute.
All media LIFE Photo Collection

For further information on the exhibition contact: arts@albanianinstitute.org


Credits: All media
LIFE Photo Collection

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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