Bette Davis perches restlessly in a giant white chair. She seems small and fresh. Yet there’s something terrible in her stare — any minute she could chew that chair to kindling.
Horst P. Horst, who began shooting Hollywood’s leading ladies for Vogue in the early 1930s, made it his art to pierce through public images and capture the women’s souls among his brooding shadows. He had a way with divas. ”Nice teeth,” he would say in his lyrical German accent. ”Where did you buy them? They were just ordinary nice girls,” he says. ”That’s how I treated them.” The influence of the legendary photographer can still be seen everywhere, from Madonna’s video for ”Vogue” to the portraits by Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber. Photographer William Wegman said Horst’s pictures ”are so deeply etched in my mind that I can’t imagine the world without them.” Now 85, Horst suffers from glaucoma, and his companion of nearly half a century, the writer and ex-diplomat Valentine G. Lawford, died last June. But the photographer still works — his platinum prints fetch up to $20,000, and in recent years he has focused on Georgette Mosbacher, Princess Stephanie, and the Oscar statuette, which he shot exclusively for Entertainment Weekly’s cover. Form, a book of his plant-life photography and nudes, is due out this spring. He lives on a breezy Long Island estate, which he paid for in 1947 by hocking a Picasso.