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Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography

Posted on February 02, 2024 - By Akron Art Museum
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Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography
Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography

February 24 – July 14, 2024


Marilyn Stafford - A Life in Photography will open at the Akron Art Museum, Ohio, USA, in the Judith Bear Isroff Gallery and the Laura Ruth and Fred Bidwell Gallery on Saturday, February 24, 2024. The exhibition features decades of Stafford’s photography which will highlight the work, people, and issues she found most important.

Marilyn Stafford was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925 but spent most of her life in Europe. Stafford made a great income by photographing notable performers, models, writers, and celebrities which allowed her to devote time to her stronger interest in humanitarian work. 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. Marilyn Stafford passed away in 2023 at the age of 97 and this exhibition marks a posthumous homecoming for her work to the USA where she was born.

“The Akron Art Museum has a fondness for photographic work, especially work which showcases natural curiosity and intrigue.” Says Jon Fiume, Executive Director, and CEO of the Akron Art Museum. “Her work is more than excellent photography – it’s connective stories between the subject, Marilyn, and the viewer.”

Photography was the driving force in Marilyn Stafford's incredible life, and it connected her with cultures and historical events across the world.” Says Dr. Jeff Katzin, Senior Curator at the Akron Art Museum. “I am truly excited that this exhibition will honor her boundless curiosity, her humanitarian compassion, and her pioneering role as a female photojournalist in the twentieth century and share all of this with the Akron Art Museum's audiences.


Marilyn Stafford

Édith Piaf, singer Eddie Constantine, and singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, following tea at Grand Hôtel, Paris 1950 © Marilyn Stafford / Courtesy of the Marilyn Stafford Collective

Considered France’s most popular singer, Édith Piaf rose from performing on street corners to becoming one of France’s most widely known international stars. Her nervous energy and thin frame inspired the name “piaf,” which translates as “little sparrow.” Today her best known song is “La Vie en rose.” Eddie Constantine was an American singer and actor who helped Piaf with English translations of her songs, while Charles Aznavour was a singer, songwriter, and diplomat dubbed “France’s Frank Sinatra,” who often opened for Piaf.


Marilyn Stafford

Albert Einstein, at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, USA 1948 © Marilyn Stafford / Courtesy of the Marilyn Stafford Collective

''This was 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. I was informed on the way to his house that I was the stills photographer, so I learned how to use a 35mm SLR camera in the back of the car.''

On view in this exhibition is a picture Stafford took during the Algerian War of Independence. The picture showcases refugees in a camp near a bombed hospital. This picture ended up being her first front-page photograph in The Observer, which then sent an additional journalist to report on the situation. That photograph is a remarkable story from Stafford which we get to share with Akron.

“What engages me most about Marilyn Stafford’s work is the extraordinary range of subjects she was able to capture, from celebrities to street photography, fashion, everyday life, and wartime photojournalism.” Says Wendy Earle, Curator at the Akron Art Museum, and co-curator of this exhibition. “Viewers who are interested in almost any facet of photography will find something to connect with in this exhibition.”

This exhibition could not have happened without the support of Marilyn Stafford Photography, who is an archive for Stafford’s work and connects with Museums for exhibitions and events.

“It is very moving, in the year after my mother's death, to see her work exhibited so close to her hometown.” Said Lina Clerke, daughter of Marilyn Stafford and Director of Marilyn Stafford Photography. “This exhibition will also bring me back to Cleveland, for the first time in 25 years. I can't wait to see her photographs on the museum walls, and to meet residents when I give a talk [at the Museum] in April.”

“The exhibition is intended to be a reflective and engaging look at a period of 20th century history through Marilyn's unique gaze.” Said Nina Emett, the Photo Archive Manager, Curator and Director of Marilyn Stafford Photography. “We were able to let Marilyn know the good news [the Museum’s exhibition] before she died in early 2023. ‘Oh, how lovely, my work is going home,’ she said with a big smile on her face.”

This exhibition will allow you to engage with several decades of the twentieth century with glimpses into the locals of Paris, London, Rome, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, and Bangladesh. This combination of children, passersby, pedestrians, and war refugees, with models, artists, celebrities, and politicians makes for a striking contrast. All the subjects are portrayed with respect and dignity, but each showcases a level of humanity that once again proves the major similarities we share as humanity.


Marilyn Stafford

Twiggy, press call, London 1966 © Marilyn Stafford / Courtesy of the Marilyn Stafford Collective

During the Indo-Pakistani War, the famous Taj Mahal was camouflaged with jute netting and branches for protection from hostile air attacks.


Marilyn Stafford

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India 1971 © Marilyn Stafford / Courtesy of the Marilyn Stafford Collective

Dame Leslie Lawson, known by the nickname “Twiggy,” is a British fashion model, actress, singer, and cultural icon of the “swinging sixties.”


Marilyn Stafford

Hylan Booker, London 1966 © Marilyn Stafford / Courtesy of the Marilyn Stafford Collective

Hylan Booker was a Detroit-born dress designer. The first black fashion designer in Europe, he was head designer for the fashion brand House of Worth in the 1960s and a recipient of the prestigious Yardley Award in 1967.

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