Marilyn Stafford - An Iconic Female Photojournalist
Marilyn Stafford, the recently rediscovered and iconic street and fashion photo-journalist, passed away last month at the age of 97.
Marilyn Stafford was born in Cleveland in 1925. During her long life she captured many history moments and famous celebs through her lens. Before turning her hand to photography, she had hopes of becoming a singer/actress and even performed in Chez Carrère, Paris c.1949, where met the famous Edith Piaf who she would later photograph.
Recently rediscovered, she is quoted on Instagram saying:
"Photographers don't grow old - they just grow out of focus"
Her retrospective exhibition "Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography (2021)", held in the Brighton Museum and Art Galley in Spring 2022, celebrated four decades of her oeuvre. Unseen photos were exhibited which revealed her own unique gaze across a wide ranging subject matter, including French Prête-à-Porter fashion and refugees. The exhibition comprised of photographs spanning from street fashion, to Algerian refuges in Tunisia and the calm before the storm/civil war in the Lebanon 1960. Her photographs of Algerian refugees in Tunisa, made the front page of The Observer in 1958. A mother cradling her baby in front of a tent is the image she treasures most.
"That image meant more than anything else. It was very moving to see the people living as they were"
Saying herself, one of the high points of her career was photographing Albert Einstein at his own home. She described him as wonderful, her iconic image of him is hazy and slightly out of focus as he sits back in a pair of tracksuit bottoms, speaking out against the use atomic weapons. You can see her photo of Einstein here - captured in 1948.
He is seen unguarded and relaxed, yet there is a sorrowful aura about his complexion. Which would make sense, as she was photographing for a documentary where he was asked to comment on the use of atomic weapons. He is most renowned for his Theory of Relativity and Equation E = mc2 which contributed to the creation of the atomic bomb.
Just an FYI - this is not her photograph of Mr Albert. I do not have the copyright to reuse her image, so, I substituted with this beauty from the Public Domain of beloved Wikipedia. Know that I am questioning my choice of blog topic, because, on what planet was I thinking of writing an article about a photojournalist, without permission to reuse images? Anyway here I am, always up for the challenge.
Another notable piece of work was a documentary created by Stafford in the 70s on Indira Gandhi - India's first and only female Prime Minister to date. Stafford spent a month photographing Ms Gandhi visiting army bases, hospitals, attending political rallies and finally concluded with photographing her in her own home.
For many years, Stafford's work lay stored in a collection of shoe boxes, lost to the world only for a serendipitous meeting of Stafford and Nina Emett, curator of the retrospective exhibition last year. Stafford believed that serendipity lay in the core of her success as a photographer. However, I think a combination of serendipity, Stafford's talent and Nina Emett's eye for greatness have contributed to the immortality of Stafford's oeurve, which easily could have remained lost to history. I think a big thank you is in order. If it were not for Nina Emett, we may not have had the opportunity to see such a wonderful and diverse array of Stafford's work.
Stafford herself said,
"If you take the photograph at the right time, and it has something to say, it will always say it".
If you would like to see more of her work, absolutely visit her website: https://www.marilynstaffordphotography.com/photographs/
Here you'll find collections spanning from the streets of Paris in the 1950s to the numerous celebrities she encountered, and of course, her raw exposure of the hardship of war.
1) The Guardian