Born: May 19, 1935;

Died: May 25, 2021.

EVA Sereny, who has died aged 86, was a self-taught photographer who worked behind the scenes on film sets to capture some of the biggest stars of the 1970s and 1980s. Jane Fonda, Sean Connery, Mia Farrow, Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep were all caught in her lens as were such directors as Francois Truffaut, Werner Herzog and Federico Fellini.

While she provided numerous publicity stills, it was her pictures of actors and directors off-duty that revealed something more intimate than the professional personas usually presented to the world. She did this by staying unobtrusively in the background, so her subjects were barely aware of her presence.

This approach made for some classic shots. A barefoot Paul Newman carries two bottles of beer in each hand while wearing a “Get really stoned” T-shirt; Malcolm McDowell smoking a cigarette on the set of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (1973); Marlon Brando lighting Bernardo Bertolucci’s cigarette while making Last Tango In Paris (1972).

Brando had initially expressed his resistance to photographers, but went on to grant Sereny access not afforded to others. After an initially frosty reception, Raquel Welch did likewise and, though Welch later never recognised Sereny from their first meeting, Sereny did not let on.

Her favourite image was one of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Joseph Losey’s film The Assassination Of Trotsky (1972). With Burton playing the title role, Taylor turned up unannounced to see her then husband. The icy look between the soon-to-be-divorced star couple in Sereny’s discreetly-taken image speaks volumes.

Also in the film was the Austrian actress Romy Schneider, who contacted Sereny a few nights after they met on set, requesting a photo session. The result, taken in the small hours, formed the basis of Sereny’s book, Romy In Rome (1998).

Forming such a rapport was typical of the Swiss-born photographer. Jacqueline Bisset, whom she photographed during the filming of Day For Night (1973), wrote a foreword for Through Her Lens: The Stories Behind The Photography Of Eva Sereny (2018), a vital collection of her work. Charlotte Rampling, who was photographed by Sereny on the set of The Night Porter (1974), wrote her a poem.

In one image, Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford are captured lounging around on a break from filming Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984). As Carrie Kania, director of photography at Iconic Images, London, observed in Through Her Lens, they look “like best friends hanging out in a university dorm”.

Sereny went on to make her own films. She did this first with The Dress (1984), about a man buying a new outfit for his mistress. The film starred Michael Palin and Phyllis Logan, and won a Bafta for Best Short Film. Her only feature, Foreign Student (1994), starred Robin Givens and Marco Hofschneider in an adaptation of Philippe Labro’s novel about a football-playing French exchange student who falls in love in racially sensitive America. The empathy she brought to all her work reflected her own essence.

Eva Sereny was born in Zurich, the only child of Hungarian parents. Aged five, she moved to England with her mother after her businessman father, on a trip there, was unable to return home due to the outbreak of the Second World War, and instead arranged for his wife and daughter to be with him.

At 20, Sereny moved to Italy, where she met and married engineer Vincio Delleani. She began exploring photography in the 1960s after he had a car accident while the couple and their two young sons were living in Rome.

As she told The Guardian in 2018: “It was a close call. I remember sitting beside him in the hospital thinking my God, but for a few seconds, I would be a widow. I’ve got to do something. I’m quite artistic, though I can’t draw. What about photography?”

Delleani set up a dark room in their basement, while a friend who was head of the Italian Olympic committee drafted her in to document a series of new sports centres being built across the country.

She flew to London shortly afterwards, and turned up at the offices of The Times newspaper unannounced with her images. Having been granted a meeting, three days later a full page of her photographs was published as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Italy’s forthcoming Olympic plans.

Her film work began on Catch-22 (1970), with director Mike Nichols so impressed by her initial submissions that he kept her on as a special photographer. She went on to Luchino Visconti’s Thomas Mann adaptation, Death In Venice (1971), and a stream of major films. When she moved into more formally posed portraiture, her work appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine, Newsweek, Vogue, Paris Match, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.

Through Her Lens not only provided a definitive compendium of her images: it also showcased a particular era of international cinema. As quoted in the Iconic Images announcement of her passing, when asked how she captured stars in the way she did, her reply was simple. “It’s how you approach people,” she said. “Life is about that.”

She is survived by her husband, Frank Charnock, who she met in 2009; and her two sons, Riccardo and Alessandro, to Vincio Delleani, who pre-deceased her in 2007 after 50 years of marriage.