Antoinette Frissell Bacon (Toni Frissell) 1907 – 1988
Born into a wealthy New York banking family, legendary photographer Antoinette ‘Toni’ Frissell Bacon was introduced to photography in her twenties by her filmmaker brother Varick.
She apprenticed at Vogue under Cecil Beaton until 1942 and perfected a ‘plein air’ photography style through the 1930s and 40s, bringing a fresh, natural modernity to fashion photography and freeing it from overtly staged lighting.
Toni then worked for Harper’s Bazaar, from 1941 – 1950, experimenting with an ‘action-fashion’ style which featured unusual, often diagonal, perspectives, achieved via a low point of view and a wide-angle lens. Her innovative underwater work was used by both magazines.
In 1953, Toni became the first woman photographer on staff at Sports Illustrated and covered sports she loved, like water sports and skiing.
During WW2 she photographed for the American Red Cross and the US Air Force and was appointed the official photographer of the Women’s Army Corps. Her photographs of military women and African American fighter pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were used to encourage public support for diversity in the military. Her moving photographs of children in bombed out London published in Life Magazine showed her empathetic journalistic eye.
“I became so frustrated with fashions that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do a real reporting job.”
Lisa Fonssagrives with English bobby on a railway station platform. Photograph by Toni Frissell, published by Harper’s Bazaar in 1951. Part of a collection gifted to the Library of Congress by Frissell via Wikipedia
Her reputation grew and her iconic 1944 photograph, My Shadow – of a boy with outstretched arms admiring his shadow on the sand – was selected for the world-touring exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1952.
She donated her archive to the Library of Congress in 1971. The photobook Toni Frissell Photographs 1933-1967, was compiled by her daughter, Sidney Frissell Stafford, and edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (her final editing project) in 1994.
By Paula Vellet