‘Barbarella’ at 45: David Hurn’s Iconic Images of Jane Fonda

David Hurn–Magnum
David Hurn–Magnum
Jane Fonda poses in a costume from the cult classic film Barbarella in 1967 in Rome.

A member of Magnum since 1965, David Hurn had been photographing behind the scenes on films for years in the 1960s—including the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and the first four James Bond films—when he was asked to take pictures for the 1968 sci-fi cult classic Barbarella.

Forty-five years after snapping the enduring images of the film’s daring star, Jane Fonda, the photos continue to send their legendary photographer checks in the mail and thus fund his ongoing project documenting the changing lives and landscapes of his home country of Wales.

During production in 1967 in Rome, however, Fonda had become a challenge for photographers, rejecting so many frames that few were left to promote the film in magazines, Hurn said. Once he got on set, he discovered the famously beautiful Fonda was insecure about her looks. “She actually said to me, ‘I feel like a squirrel with one cheek full of nuts,’ … Anyway I managed to get her to laugh a lot and we then became very good friends,” he said.

Hurn exposed about 500 rolls of film over the course of a month. His most published images from the assignment were a fashion-inspired series of Fonda in her costumes against a white background. A dedicated and agile athlete long before her fame as a workout guru, Fonda was a natural at the kicks, squats and stretches Hurn captured.

“At about 6 o’clock in the morning there’d she be cavorting around with a foot behind her neck sort of thing. So it was comparatively easy to do shots of her in the various costumes with very exaggerated poses and things which was exactly right for what was after all a comic strip,” Hurn said.

The photographer enjoyed his time on Barbarella and felt well-treated by the director, Fonda’s husband, Roger Vadim, but the project was not without its annoyances and hiccups. For one, Hurn grew tired of Vadim and his entourage talking about free love. “It seems to me if you want to get your pants off, get your pants off, but not try to justify it by some theory, you know,” Hurn said. And then, a week into the gig Hurn’s cameras, including Leicas, were stolen. They reappeared two days later, however, replaced in a secret act of generosity by Fonda.

Hurn remained friends with Fonda after Barbarella, photographing her at her country house, her and Vadim’s next film Spirits of the Dead and later director Joseph Losey’s A Doll’s House in 1972.

Today Hurn, who is also a renown educator, is at work on several projects including a third book about Wales, where he’s been living and photographing since leaving behind the expensive glamor of London in 1970. He’s planning a project detailing life in his 400-person village for his final five years. But he’s not rushing into it.

“I have had a blissful life,” he said. “I always puzzle when people sort of grumble about their lives. I really, really enjoyed my life and I’m clinging on desperately. They’re going to have to really drag me! I think life’s so pleasant and can be so funny, so, so funny.”

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