With her images of models on the streets of Paris and refugees fleeing the Algerian war of independence, the 96-year-old blazed a trail for female photographers

Photo: Indira Gandhi boarding a plane, New Delhi, 1972. Photograph: Marilyn Stafford (cropped. see original below)

02 November 2021 | Marilyn Stafford | The Guardian

Indira Gandhi speaking at mass rally in Kashmir in 1972 following the India-Pakistan war

At a time when women were expected to be mothers and wives, not professional photographers, Marilyn Stafford blazed her way into photographic history. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925, she originally intended to become an actress and singer before a friend gave her a Rolleiflex camera after she had moved to New York City. She went on to assist US fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo and would soon find herself behind the camera herself, shooting the likes of Albert Einstein and Édith Piaf

Girl with milk bottle, Cité Lesage-Bullourde, Paris, c1950

Stafford befriended the famous war photographer Robert Capa in Paris and met Henri Cartier-Bresson, who acted as a mentor, encouraging her to take street photographs

Model having fun at the end of the fashion shoot, Ready-to-wear, Louvre, Paris, c1950

Stafford worked as a fashion photographer but preferred to shoot the models on the streets of Paris rather than in studios.

Fruit and tin-smith market, Tripoli, Lebanon, 1960

Two years after marrying the British journalist Robin Stafford she travelled to Tunisia while six months pregnant, on a mission to document the Algerian refugees fleeing France’s ‘scorched earth’ aerial bombardment in the Algerian war of independence. The Observer published two of the images on its front page. The family moved around and Stafford would shoot wherever they went – from Italian writers in Rome to the people of Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon

Baalbeck village, Lebanon, 1960

Stafford would shoot all across Lebanon. But after splitting from her husband, Stafford moved back to London with her daughter and worked for the Observer among other UK and international publications such as Vogue. She photographed the likes of Donovan, Twiggy and Ossie Clark and also took pictures on the film set for Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1969 directorial debut Oh! What a Lovely War

Weightlifter, Sidon, Lebanon, 1960

Stafford was one of few female photographers working for national and international newspapers and magazines at the time. Later she would set up the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage award to support female photographers around the world

Street sleepers, Boulogne-Billancourt, 1950

Stafford once said: ‘Photographers don’t grow old – they just grow out of focus’

Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand comforting a victim of the Bangladesh war of independence in 1972

After a chance encounter on a train Stafford became great friends with Anand – it was through him that she was first introduced to Cartier-Bresson

Indira Gandhi boarding a plane, New Delhi, 1972

Stafford spent a month photographing Gandhi, India’s only female prime minister, at home and at work after the war with Pakistan, which created the new state of Bangladesh