This project began as an exploration of my new home: I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 with a television writer and an actor, both in pursuit of the “Hollywood Dream.”

As a place that attracts people chasing their dreams, Los Angeles fascinated me, and I began to search for a way to represent that idea visually. Soon, I started to notice the face of Marilyn Monroe everywhere: on T-shirts, murals, and in magazines. Her image was so ubiquitous that it blended into my everyday life. I began to think of Marilyn’s story as a symbol for this place: the promise and peril of the Hollywood Dream encapsulated in one life.

This project became a study of Marilyn’s endurance and her lasting relevance in modern celebrity culture. It’s been over 50 years since her death, and yet her image is stronger now than ever. Many who recognize her don’t know her movies, but they do know that she represents glamour, celebrity and stardom. She is the ultimate symbol of Hollywood, but also a reminder of the downfall that the pursuit of fame can lead to.

For people who dress as Marilyn, she remains the embodiment of an idea that reaches far beyond Los Angeles. Her timeless celebrity inspires her admirers to channel and protect a traditional image of fame in a modern world where celebrity is constantly expanding and changing.

Despite the darkness her story exemplifies, she represents a place that inspires the imagination and offers a faraway glimmer of hope—generation after generation.

—Emily Berl

Editor’s Note: Berl’s project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents! You can follow Berl’s work on her Instagram account and personal website. This project will be published by Switzerland’s Sturm & Drang Publishers early next year.