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Remembering Toni Frissell: "I'd Rather Stalk with a Camera Than a Gun"

"I'd Rather Stalk with a Camera Than a Gun", photo of American photographer Toni Frissell, c. 1935
March 10, 2014 /Photography News/ Born on March 10, 1907, Toni Frissell (or Antoinette Frissell Bacon) was an American photographer, known for her fashion photography, World War II photographs, portraits of famous Americans and Europeans, children, and women from all walks of life.

Underwater view of a woman, wearing a long gown, floating in water. Photograph by Toni Frissell at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida (1947). This image was later used as the cover for the album Undercurrent by Bill Evans and Jim Hall, the album Tears in Rain by This Ascension and Osvaldo Golijov's "Oceana," and also for the album Whispering Sin by the Beauvilles.
Frissell worked with many famous photographers of the day, as an apprentice to Cecil Beaton, and with advice from Edward Steichen. She initially worked for Vogue in 1931 as a fashion photographer for Vogue in 1931, and later took photographs for Harper's Bazaar. Her fashion photos, even of evening gowns and such, were often notable for their outdoor settings, emphasizing active women.

German actress Lilli Palmer (1914-1986), with husband Rex Harrison (1908-1990) in the background, photographed by Toni Frissell (1907-1988) in 1950
In 1941, Frissell volunteered her photographic services to the American Red Cross. Later she worked for the Eighth Army Air Force and became the official photographer of the Women's Army Corps. On their behalf, she took thousands of images of nurses, front-line soldiers, WACs, African-American airmen, and orphaned children. She traveled to the European front twice. Her moving photographs of military women and African American fighter pilots in the elite 332d Fighter Group (the "Tuskegee Airmen") were used to encourage public support for women and African Americans in the military.

"Victoria Station, London". Fashion model (identified as Lisa Fonssagrives with English bobby on platform at London's Victoria Station. Photograph by Toni Frissell (one of the most celebrated female photographers of the 20th Century), published by Harper's Bazaar in 1951. Part of a collection gifted to the Library of Congress by Frissell. Very poor scan of a very beautiful picture. I tried my best to bring out the contrasts and remove the various artifacts, but I wish they'd clean it up and scan it again. Note, the location of this picture has been mistaken by United States Library of Congress the actual location is Paddington station.
In the 1950s, she took informal portraits of the famous and powerful in the United States and Europe, including Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, and worked for Sports Illustrated and Life magazines. Continuing her interest in active women and sports, she was the first woman on the staff of Sports Illustrated in 1953, and continued to be one of very few female sport photographers for several decades.

Nuns clamming on Long Island
In later work she concentrated on photographing women from all walks of life, often as a commentary on the human condition.

Toni Frissell died of Alzheimer's disease on April 17, 1988

Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London, England, 1945
Her photographs illustrated the following books:
  • A Child's Garden of Verses (1944)
  • Bermuda:The Happy Island (1946)
  • Mother Goose (1948)
  • The King Ranch, 1939-1944 (1965)
  • Tethered, by Amy MacKinnon (August 2008)



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