The only side note to the photographer we will look at today is: casual lively outdoors fashion images, children portraits. Hmm….. For the life of me, I cannot remember anything about her work! I must have seen some of it at some point to have written down this comment. Time to refresh the ol’  memory!

Toni Frissell, or Antoinette Frissell Bacon was born on March the 10th in 1907 in New York City, New York, but took photos under the name Toni Frissell, even after her marriage to Manhattan socialite McNeil Bacon. The daughter of a New York physician, granddaughter to the founder and president of the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York, Great-Granddaughter of Mary Whitney Phelps and Governor of Missouri, she had a privileged childhood. Through family connections she began her career as a writer for Vogue, where the editor, Carmel Snow, pointed her towards photography. Frissell learned it from her brother, the documentary film-maker Varick Frissell after which she became an apprentice to Cecil Beaton, and with advice from Edward Steichen.

Her initial job, as a fashion photographer for Vogue in 1931, was due to Condé Montrose Nast personally. 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.

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 travelled 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.

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.

In later work she concentrated on photographing women from all walks of life, often as a commentary on the human condition. Frissell excelled at outdoor photography, and favoured small cameras to achieve more natural, spontaneous results.

Toni Frissell died of Alzheimer’s disease on April 17, 1988, in a Long Island nursing home. Her husband predeceased her. She is survived by 2 children, 3 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.

My favourite images:


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