As photographic assignments go, Howell T. Conant Sr. had one of the best. Conant, who died March 11 at his home in Carefree, Ariz., at 83, was the favorite photographer of Princess Grace of Monaco.
Conant’s relationship with the future princess started in 1955, when he was hired by Photoplay magazine to do a cover shoot with the woman then known as Grace Kelly. Even though he was a successful fashion photographer, Conant was nervous about the assignment. At the time, Kelly was one of Hollywood’s leading actresses and would soon win an Academy Award for her performance in “The Country Girl.”
As the story goes, Kelly sensed the discomfort of the “awe-struck” Conant and took charge.
“This is my good side,” she told him. “Now light it as you know how, and we’ll be done with it.”
Kelly liked the photographer’s modest manner. After her engagement to Prince Rainier, she invited Conant along to cover her voyage to Monaco. Although there were plenty of other photographers on board the S.S. Constitution at the time, Conant had the access. For the next 26 years, he was the palace’s unofficial photographer. In 1992, he published a book of the photographs he took during that period, “Grace.”
In the book, Conant wrote that in photographing Princess Grace, he became aware that she had one flaw. “It was her jaw,” he said. “It was too square.”
So he rarely angled his camera lower than her jaw and when he did, he hid it by having her hold a dog or a baby.
Portrait photography for Conant was the family business. He learned his trade in his father’s studio in Marinette, Wis. After high school, he studied photography at the University of Wisconsin and at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. During World War II, he was part of Adm. Chester Nimitz’s noted photographic team.
After the war, he moved to New York City and became a fashion photographer for Life, Look and Paris Match. Other celebrities he photographed included Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Presidents Kennedy and Nixon.
Of the marriage of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, he once told a reporter for King Features: “He was the only man in the world Grace could have married. Why? Her fame was so great, any other man would have become known as Mr. Kelly. . . . But not Rainier, who’d never fit into that category. He’s a man’s man, and they were close. People don’t understand the importance of being important. They were both important, but Rainier owned an entire country!”
When Princess Grace died in a car accident in September 1982, Conant was packing for a trip to Monaco to take the family’s official Christmas portrait. He left immediately, without taking his cameras.
Conant is survived by his wife, Dorothy; a brother, Roger, of Newport Beach; a son, Howell Jr., of Cave Creek, Ariz.; three daughters, Carol Richter-Blum of Philadelphia, Susan Conant of Newport, R.I., and Sarah Martabano of South Salem, N.Y.; 12 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.