THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month
Tripoli Cafe 1960, May 1960, by Marilyn Stafford
Former Fleet Street picture editor Alan Sparrow on a nonagenarian photographer’s autobiography
Not many people get around to publishing a book, let alone when they reach their nineties, but that is exactly what photographer Marilyn Stafford is doing. This book, Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography, to be published by Bluecoat Press this summer supported by crowdfunding, is a collection of images that span Stafford’s 70-year career.
Born in Cleveland , Ohio, in 1925 Marilyn Stafford was in New York in 1948 where she was training to become a singer and actor. She was supporting herself with an income as a photographer’s assistant when the photography seed was planted.
That year, aged 23, Stafford travelled to Paris to pursue her singing career, but fate took a hand when she met the legendary photographer Robert Capa who introduced her to Henri Cartier Bresson. Cartier Bresson became her mentor and helped her create a style of fashion photography which used the people and streets of Paris as the backdrop to photographs of elegant modes from the leading fashion houses of the time.
There was an earlier attempt to publish a book in the 1960s when Stafford had been on a year-long trip to the Lebanon from which an optimistic publisher commissioned her to produce a book for the tourist market. But the calm of the region which was just recovering from civil war (July to October 1958) was a fragile thing, and the book was not published. A plan to use the book’s material to promote the Lebanon at the Brussels World Fair was also thwarted when the Lebanese Bank collapsed and a presence at the fair was no longer possible. The dummy for this book was tucked away and finally published in 1998, followed by another collection of pictures on 2014.
''Lebanon is a country of many different social and religious communities and I was fortunate to meet people from different ones who opened their doors for me” Stafford, now 96, recalls. “Everyone was so warm and friendly and keen to show me their story.
''I went to the northern part of the Lebanon with a Muslim doctor, well known in his community, who offered to escort me as I took pictures. It must have been a rarity for people in the marketplace to see a western woman with a camera, there are so many surprised faces, mostly of the men in the pictures! The doctor took me to a café where women dare not enter and the image of the startled customers smoking the hubble-bubbles is the picture on the cover of this book”, and the photographer appears in the picture in the mirror on the wall.
“This forthcoming book will really be the true story of a lifetime in photography'' she says. Alongside her images from Lebanon in the book is her work from Paris and from her time as a freelance photographer for The Observer during the 1970s. In her career she has photographed many famous faces, including Einstein, Indira Gandhi, Edith Piaf and Sir Richard Attenborough.
In 2017 Marilyn Stafford established the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award in collaboration with Nina Emett at FotoDocument, a social documentary photography award for women that focuses on positive solutions to social or environmental issues.
The book’s crowdfunding is doing well, says the publisher, and the campaign ends in two weeks’ time.
You can see more of Marilyn Stafford’s work and subscribe to the campaign here: