Marilyn Stafford | Stories in Pictures 1950 – 1960

Lucy Bell Fine Art Presents
Marilyn Stafford CITE LESAGE PARIS 1950

“I have always been fond of stories, listening to them, telling them, performing them, singing them. One way or another my life has been that of an observer and story teller”

Photo-journalist Marilyn Stafford, who now lives in West Sussex, was born in Cleveland Ohio, in 1925. She originally trained as an actress, at the age of 7 she was scouted to train at the Cleveland Play House Theatre, along with big names like Paul Newman. She then studied drama at university and went to New York to act, finding work off Broadway and in television.

Her photographic career began in New York in 1948 when she was asked to photograph Albert Einstein for friends who were making a documentary about him.

“The director gave me a camera and said you are going to be the photographer. I said I didn’t know how to take pictures. I had only taken them on a Brownie. So, in the car from New York to New Jersey, I learned how to use it.”

This single experience set her on her future path. She went on to assist Francesco Scavullo, a controversial fashion photographer whose work has been published widely including in Vogue and Cosmopolitan

“I was not really interested in that kind of photography, but that was where you could earn a living as a woman. I was interested in telling stories in pictures and showing the world to people as I saw it, maybe to make them see something and then act on it or enjoy it.”

In December 1948 Marilyn moved to Paris briefly singing with an ensemble at Chez Carrère near the Champs Elysees, and photographing for a Fashion PR Company. At the club she met Edith Piaf and also became friends with Robert Capa and during this period she was also introduced by her life-long friend the Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand to Henri Cartier-Bresson who encouraged her photographic career.

“I often went out photographing with Cartier-Bresson – the time I photographed him, was at a household and appliance exhibition at the Grand Palais”

Marilyn photographed the neighbourhoods of the Bastille and Boulogne-Billancourt and her images of children from Cité Lesage-Bullourde near the Place de la Bastille are a very rare insight into the street children living in one of the city’s notorious slums. Demolished in 1984, it is now the site of the Paris Opera Bastille. Some of the negatives have been lost, but thanks to modern technology Robin Bell the renowned darkroom printer has created new negs and printed these historically important images for the first time in 67 years, creating an edition of silver gelatin prints.

“I did these pictures long before I met Cartier-Bresson, I never showed them to him as I was very shy, but I felt honoured that he let me tag along, it was only after taking the Algerian pictures that I prevailed on him to help me select the pictures, that I would then send over to the Observer. These became the first front page pictures I had published”

In 1958 Marilyn Stafford travelled to Tunisia to document the Algerian refugees fleeing France’s ‘Scorched Earth’ attacks. Marilyn was 5 months pregnant when she took these pictures.

“It was harrowing and as far as I am concerned, the picture I loved most is of a refugee mother holding this poor little infant. That image meant more than anything else. I wanted to do a story about the refugees, I believe that documentary work should raise social issues, and was very happy when other photographers and journalists were commissioned to go out and record the situation, as I had brought the issue to wider attention”

The exhibition also features Marilyn’s pioneering photographs, where, for the first time, she took models out of the studio and chic salons into the streets of Paris, using a photo-documentary style to her fashion shots. In the mid-sixties Marilyn Stafford settled in London, where, along with Fay Godwin, Sally Soames, and Jane Bown , she helped pave the way for future female photographers working on Fleet Street. Marilyn Staffords commitment to supporting female documentary photographers continues today with the launch of the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award Launched in Spring 2017 in Association with FotoDocument.

Robin Bell who has printed for many of the world’s top photographers and archives, including Bill Brandt, Norman Parkinson, Ernst Haas and David Bailey says of the work

“I often feel lucky to be doing the thing that I do and sometimes I get double lucky; this is one of those occasions. Lucy and Marilyn invited me to curate and print approximately 40 images, some of the chosen images no longer have negs, but thanks to a combination of new and old technology, modern silver gelatin prints have been made. Marilyn’s pictures have warmth, perception, humour and technical skill and do the trick that all good photos do, which is transport one to another world and time, evoking nostalgia, surprise ,empathy and wonder in equal measure.”