This Aspiring Actress Got to Photograph Albert Einstein, Then Changed Careers

This Aspiring Actress Got to Photograph Albert Einstein, Then Changed Careers

It was 1948. One aspiring actress tagged along with a couple of filmmaker friends, and ended up taking some of the most iconic photos the world has ever seen: black and white portraits of Albert Einstein. It had such an effect, she instead pursued photography, going on to take portraits of world leaders, and enjoying a career in photojournalism spanning many decades.

Arriving at Einstein’s New Jersey home, Marilyn Stafford was handed a 35mm Canonflex with a zoom lens as a last-minute thought by her filmmaker friends, who asked if she would take some stills for their documentary. Naturally she was nervous, but she insisted Einstein helped put her at ease:

He was absolutely lovely. He met us at the door and there was really no fuss. He was dressed in baggy pants and a sweatshirt. He was completely at ease and made us feel the same. My friends filmed him, he talked and I snapped.

Marilyn Stafford's portrait of Albert Einstein, taken in 1948, is copyright to her, and was used with permission.

Little did she know at the time, but for decades to follow, sales to publications meant the images she took that day were going to be viewed the world over. In a new interview with LA Times, the photographer, now aged 92 and residing in England, talks about her entire portfolio — many images of which highlight social change in the 20th century, or feature celebrities and world leaders. That’s because her images of Einstein didn’t only make her money, they actually led to her pursuing photography professionally. And she’s certainly happy with how the change panned out: “Oh the wonderful memories I have. Life has been good to me.”

Stafford also works in conjunction with FotoDocument, a non-profit arts education organization run by Nina Emett that casts a light on positive social and environmental initiatives through documentary photography. A subsidary is FotoAward, which recognizes one female photographer each year for their contributions via "initiation or completion of a compelling and cohesive documentary photo essay which addresses an important social, environmental, economic, or cultural issue."

Read the interview in full at LA Times. See more of her work at her website.

Lead image by Public Domain Pictures via Pexels.

[via LA Times]

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6 Comments

John Cliff's picture

"by her videographer friends" it's nitpicking I know but they wouldn't have been videographers back then...filmakers more likely!

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Wondering how in the world she even achieved a usable exposure. Whatever camera they tossed to her in 1948 was certainly not a point and shoot.

Michael Purcell's picture

I wonder about the date mentioned. The Canonflex SLR was introduced in 1959 as Canon's first SLR

I did the same google double check as you it seems...

Spy Black's picture

The closest Canon I could find in that era was the Seiki Kogaku (Canon) S-II rangefinder. Now, what are the odds of someone having that in NJ at that moment in time? It said she was with filmaking friends, so the possibility is there. However I'm not sure how many people at that time thought a Japanese camera like that existed, let alone consider one.

Michael Purcell's picture

I assume that, perhaps, she was offered a Rollei TLR as that was the small format camera of the era.