Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography

22 Feb 22 Dan Evans


This week, we had the honour of an invite to the private view for Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography, which opens today at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery — a retrospective of the veteran photographer's work from 1948-1980. We're very proud that our film about her, I Shot Einstein, is playing at the exhibition.

Marilyn Stafford is a pioneering American photographer and photojournalist, who celebrated her 96th birthday last year. Her career got off to an incredible start when she was asked to take stills of Albert Einstein in 1948 — at a time when photography was very much a male preserve. Raised in the depression era, and inspired by Dorothea Lange’s powerful photographs of migrants fleeing drought in the Dust Bowl states, Marilyn has led the way and continues to champion female photographers with her FotoReportage prize.

Marilyn was friends with street photography pioneer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was an early mentor. When living in Paris, she would wander the notorious slums of Cité Lesage-Bullourde (demolished in the 80s), documenting the street life. She brought this into her work as a jobbing fashion photographer, taking models out onto the Paris back-streets, rather than shooting in the luxurious fashion houses.

While in Paris, Marilyn befriended Edith Piaf, and would spend long evenings with her entourage in Edith’s Bois de Boulogne mansion. Marilyn went on to photograph many celebrities of the era including Sharon Tate, Twiggy, Richard Attenborough, Albert Finney and Indira Gandi, but her real passion was for photography that would shine a light on suffering and injustice.

In 1958, while six months pregnant, she photographed Algerian refugees fleeing France’s ‘scorched earth’ aerial bombardment in the Algerian war of independence — photographs that made the front page of The Observer and helped to alert the world to the plight of the Algerian people.

The exhibition is the most comprehensive collection of Marilyn’s work to date. Seeing the work together, you get a sense that she is a master of telling stories, opening windows into worlds that have all but passed beyond living memory. We’re proud to see our film about her (I Shot Einstein) being played alongside her incredible work.

After two years in quarantine, it was a joy to see Marilyn again at the private view, where she told stories from her past, thanked the people who have helped her along the way, and was awarded a life-time achievement award.

Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography will be showing at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until 8 May 2022.