96-year-old 'accidental' photographer in major new Brighton exhibition

  • ITV's Meridian's Malcolm Shaw reports from Brighton

The work 96-year-old Sussex-based photographer is being showcased in a major new exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.

US-born Marilyn Stafford describes herself as an 'accidental' photographer.

Her photographic career launched in 1948 when she took her first portrait of Albert Einstein for friends who were making a documentary film about him. 

She was given a 35mm SLR camera and a quick lesson in how to use it in the back of a car on the way to the scientist's home in New Jersey.

"I was not a professional photographer, I was in New York because my plan was to become the next great American actress", explained Marilyn Stafford.

Marilyn Stafford with her Rolleiflex

Marilyn went on to capture many of the most famous faces of the 20th century in a career which included celebrity portraits, fashion shoots, street photography, humanitarian stories and newspaper reportage.

She travelled around the world taking photographs, in an era when photography was very much dominated by men.

Some of Marilyn's most powerful work is her documentary photography. 

Images of extreme poverty in the suburbs of Paris. The despair of Algerian refugees as the country fought for independence.  And the triumph of Indira Gandhi as she became India's first and only woman Prime Minister.

Marilyn Stafford captured poverty and despair as well as celebrities and politicians

Marilyn Stafford’s daughter Lina Clerke collaborated to curate the exhibition.

Lina confessed to ITV Meridian that as a child she did not always know how famous her mother's subjects were.

"I grew up with lots and lots of photos in the house," she explained.

"At the time as a child l didn't realise the significance, but I knew that she was doing something really special and she was coming back with these amazing photographs and amazing stories as well.

"People were really comfortable with her taking their photos, so it seemed normal for her to be behind the camera. She seemed to be able to capture the spirit of the situation."

Marilyn Stafford also captured the upbeat  spirit of the swinging 60s.  The model Twiggy and actor Albert Finney among her subjects.  A young Joanna Lumley particularly left a lasting impression.

"Joanna Lumley is one of the most beautiful people I've ever met!", exclaims Marilyn.

The exhibition is the most comprehensive display of the photographer's work to date.

Marilyn's daugter said: "It's very exciting to see all these photos come out in this way, in this wonderful exhibition."

"It's like a miracle that she's still here at age 96 to see it happening. It's just fantastic."

The exhibition, Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography is on at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until May 8.