Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography

Judith Bear Isroff Gallery and Laura Ruth and Fred Bidwell Gallery
February 24 – July 14, 2024

Marilyn Stafford (1925–2023) was born in Northeast Ohio, acted on the stage in New York City, sang for chic clubgoers in Paris, met celebrities and politicians, and traveled the world. Amid this fascinating life, photography became her passion, leading to a career that spanned four decades, from the 1940s until 1980. Opening in February, Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography highlights the work, people, and issues that were important to the artist. The exhibition provides a reflective and personal look at significant events of the twentieth century through Stafford’s unique point of view.

Stafford’s work in photography started on a very high note, as she described the picture of Albert Einstein seen here as “the first portrait I ever took.” “I was accompanying a film crew making a documentary about Einstein in which he spoke out against the use of the atomic bomb,” she recalled. “I was informed on the way to his house that I was the still photographer, so I learned how to use a 35mm SLR camera in the back of the car.” After moving to Paris, she connected with other famous figures through her work as a singer, and went on to photograph notable performers, models, and writers.

Stafford was paid well for fashion photography, and this allowed her to devote time to her stronger interest in humanitarian work. Her social documentary pictures shared the lives of many ordinary people, including freedom fighters, refugees, and children. She recorded the Algerian War of Independence in 1958, peacetime Lebanon in the 1960s, and India’s intervention in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. In an extended photo essay, she documented “A Day in the Life of Indira Gandhi,” the first and, to date, the only woman to serve as prime minister of India.