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Toni Frissell - Gifted Gallery

Antoinette Frissell Bacon, born 10 March 1907, known as Toni Frissell, was an American photographer, known for her fashion photography, World War II photographs, and portraits of famous Americans, Europeans, children, and women from all walks of life.

Antoinette Frissell was born in Manhattan, NY, to Lewis Fox Frissell and Antoinette Wood Montgomery. Her brothers were Phelps Montgomery Frissell and filmmaker Varick Frissell. When Frissell was younger, she was passionate about theater, but after two roles in Max Reinhardt productions, she realised it was not for her. In her early 20s, she started taking pictures in part because of her brother, Varick, a filmmaker and photographer who taught her the basics of photography.

At the beginning of her career, she worked briefly for Vogue, making captions and writing a bit for the magazine. She was fired because of her poor spelling, but was encouraged by Vogue’s fashion editor Carmel Snow to take up photography. She took up photography to cope with the illness of her mother, the death of her brother Varick Frissell, and the end of her engagement to Count Serge Orloff-Davidoff. Her first published picture was in Town and Country. After this, she advocated for herself and got a contract with Vogue. She apprenticed with Cecil Beaton.

She worked with many other famous photographers of the day. Her first photography job, as a fashion photographer for Vogue in 1931, was due to Condé Montrose Nast. She 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. She was one of the first photographers to move outside of the studio for fashion photography, setting a trend in the field. She did not shoot indoors primarily because “I don't know how to photograph in a studio. I never did know about technical points and still don't”. Her style continued in this ‘plein air’ way throughout her career.

She married Francis “Mac” Bacon on September 9, 1932, after only a few months since the beginning of the couple’s romance. Toni and her husband purchased a large, white house on Long Island at Saint James called 'Sherrewogue' on the water of Stony Brook Harbor where the couple and their family lived for nearly 50 years. She had a passion for skiing, and once went on a three-month long skiing trip with her husband and daughter after her daughter’s graduation.

She traveled to the European front twice. Her first picture to be published in Life magazine was of bombed out London in 1942. According to sources 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.

During the war she produced a series of photographs of children that were used in an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's much-published A child's garden of verses which were an early example of the successful use of photography in illustration of children's literature.

In the 1950s, she took informal portraits of the famous and powerful in the United States and Europe, including Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Vanderbilts, architect Stanford White and John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, worked for Sports Illustrated and Life magazines. Throughout her photographic career, she worked at home and abroad for these large publications.

When she grew tired of fashion photography and fluctuating between contracts with Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, she continued her interest in active women and sports and was hired as 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.

In later work she concentrated on photographing women from all walks of life, often as a commentary on the human condition. Her iconic 1944 photograph previously used for book illustration, My Shadow, of a boy with outstretched arms admiring his long shadow on the sea sand, was selected by Edward Steichen for the world-touring exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, that was seen by 9 million visitors. In 1957 the photograph was used for the cover of a popular psychology text.

In 1963 an entire feature in Life magazine was devoted to photographs of 'The Loving Embrace' from across her career. In 1966 Life magazine paid tribute to her in a page 3 editorial profile headed 'Patrician Photographer of a Vanishing Age'.

Frissell died of Alzheimer's disease on April 17, 1988, in a Long Island nursing home. Her husband, Francis, predeceased her. She was survived by her daughter Sidney, and her son Varick. The collection of her photographs in the Library of Congress contains around 340,000 images, and because of its size is not completely available to the public. She and her husband had donated her archive of film negatives in 1971.



Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations

Photographs 1933 - 1967


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