10th June – 16th October 2022
Our summer show was a Retrospective of decades of archive photography by 96 year old Sussex photographer Marilyn Stafford.
The first ever retrospective exhibition of US born Sussex based photographer, Marilyn Stafford (b.1925), encompassing the most comprehensive display of the photographer’s work to date. Works came from an international archive spanning four decades, and included celebrity portraits, fashion shoots, street photography, humanitarian stories and newspaper reportage.
This exhibition, A Life in Photography provided a reflective and engaging look at a period of 20th century history through the photographer’s unique gaze. It featured many of the stories from her career, which remain untold, with images never seen before by the public and specially organised expanded content such as a film about Marilyn’s life and more. This special touring exhibition was curated by Nina Emett in collaboration with Stafford’s daughter Lina Clerke.
Marilyn Stafford’s photography career got off to a remarkable start when she was invited, as a young woman, to take stills of Albert Einstein. Since then, she has accumulated an eclectic body of work, spanning from 1948-1980, including further portraits of famous and influential figures such as Edith Piaf, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mulk Raj Anand, Indira Gandhi, Albert Finney, Twiggy and Joanna Lumley. She has also photographed many ordinary people like the illiterate Sicilian peasant woman, Francesca Serio, who took the Mafia to trial for murdering her son.
Stafford also engaged in street photography, mainly in the 1950s, documenting the Parisian children of the Cité Lesage-Bullourde neighbourhood living in slum housing conditions as well as the bustling, and sometimes downtrodden, street life of Boulogne-Billancourt.
Stafford witnessed some significant, and sometimes turbulent, periods of modern social and political history – she photographed Algerian refugees in Tunisia fleeing the Algerian War of Independence in 1958 which gained her front page of the Observer; she captured Lebanon in the 1960s during a time of peace before civil war would ravage the country a decade later which was published by Saqi books; she created a unique and intimate documentary about Indira Gandhi, India’s first and only woman Prime Minister, during India’s intervention in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
Alongside her humanitarian focused photography, Stafford took advantage of opportunities open to her as a female photographer, including commissioned portraits and fashion runways for British, American and international newspapers and magazines, as well as co-running her own fashion photography agency. Her work has been included on magazine and newspaper front covers, including the Observer. In 2020, Stafford was awarded the Chairman’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the UK Picture Editors’ Guild.
“I think of myself as a storyteller, speaking through the lens of my camera. I have always endeavoured to find a way to bring awareness to the public eye, to tell stories that are socially relevant and to create change for the better. As a young, impressionable child of the 1930’s Great Depression in the US, I witnessed poverty-stricken people and early holocaust refugees coming to our door, selling everything from steel wool cleaning pads to fine embroidered linens. I also remember seeing Dorothea Lange’s powerful photographs of migrants fleeing the severe drought in the Dust Bowl states and I understood there and then how photography could make a difference. During my life I have lived through periods of extraordinary change and have been able to capture both trivial and momentous events of my time. I have been very fortunate during my life to have had good friends and also good luck along the way.”
“It has been a wonderful privilege and adventure to curate the exhibition ‘Marilyn Stafford – A Life in Photography’ and to compile/edit the accompanying retrospective book of the same name. At times, I truly felt like I was behind the lens with her, indulging in poignant vignettes of life from a bygone era – whether in the picturesque streets of 1950’s Paris, the Tunisian refugee camps of the Algerian War of Independence in 1958 or on Indira Gandhi’s speaking tour of India following her heroic intervention in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. I could see reminiscences in style from some of the greats of her time – a geometrically formed André Kertesz, a decisively caught Henri Cartier-Bresson, a painterly but photojournalistic Homai Vyarawalla. But mostly I could see Marilyn Stafford. The work reveals a devilish eye for detail, a curiosity to ‘pop the hood’ and look behind the scenes, a huge respect for form and structure, a penchant for humorous juxtaposition, an emotional connection to whoever lies beyond the shutter curtain, and there is always an intriguing storyline.” said Nina Emett Curator/Editor of Marilyn Stafford – A Life in Photography and Photographer/Director, FotoDocument
An accompanying retrospective book of her work Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography includes an essay by art critic Jennifer Higgie and a foreword by the late photojournalist Tom Stoddart.
© Marilyn Stafford Photography
Model having fun at the end of the fashion shoot, Ready-to-wear, Louvre, Paris, c1950.
Joanna Lumley with models backstage during the Jean Muir fashion show.
Mulk Raj Anand with a village victim of the Bangladesh Liberation War, Bangladesh, 1972.
Listen here to Marilyn tell the story behind some of the featured photographs, and enjoy a Spotify soundtrack inspired by the display. It also features audio descriptions of five of the key photos that were in the exhibition.
WE ARE DEEPLY SADDENED BY THE NEWS OF MARILYN STAFFORD’S PASSING.
SHE PASSED AWAY PEACEFULLY AT HOME ON 2nd JANUARY 2023 SURROUNDED BY LOVED ONES.
05.11.1925 – 02.01.2023