The University of Arizona

Center for Creative Photography

Peter Stackpole

by Abe Aronow (2011.12.8)

Photographer Peter Stackpole (1913-1997), was the son of artists, Ralph Stackpole and Adele Barnes Stackpole. Educated in the San Francisco Bay area and Paris, Peter Stackpole grew up under the influence of his parent’s friends and peers, Dorthea Lange, Edward Weston and Diego Rivera. Maturing in this supportive artist community, Stackpole began developing his photographic style at a young age. Stackpole’s appreciation for the hand-held camera and his developing technical expertise found a perfect subject in the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. With his Leica Model A, he captured the details of the work itself as well as the drama of the situation. Stackpole showed this work to Willard Van Dyke in 1934 and was soon thereafter included as an honorary member in Group f/64. However, his photographic vision differed dramatically from the straight approach of the f/64 fine artists; Stackpole identified as a photojournalist preferring a vibrant and candid approach, and situating his subjects within a contextual setting. In 1935, twenty-five of Stackpole’s bridge photographs were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art. This led to several freelance projects and in 1936, when Henry Luce established his ground-breaking “picture” magazine LIFE, Stackpole was hired as one of the four staff photographers. Stackpole worked for LIFE from its founding until 1961, moving gracefully between photographing the glamorous and young in Hollywood, and the more routine lives of the laboring class, always endeavoring to present his subjects authentically. Stackpole’s portraiture of Hollywood stars created approachable and endearing characters, and is recognized as a pioneering contribution to “media culture,” solidifying Hollywood icons as a subject of fascination within popular culture. Some of the celebrities he chronicled were Gary Cooper, Alfred Hitchcock, Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson, and Elizabeth Taylor. Stackpole was LIFE’s chief Hollywood photographer from 1938 until 1951, when he moved east to work in the magazine’s New York office. Over the course of his career, 26 of his images graced the cover of LIFE. Stackpole’s work resulted in several book publications, including The Bridge Builders (1985), and Peter Stackpole, Life in Hollywood 1936-1952 (1991). In 1987, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art included much of his work in their exhibition The Hollywood Photographers. It was the Oakland Museum’s double exhibition of Stackpole’s work in Peacetime to wartime and Mr. Stackpole Goes to Hollywood that saved a significant portion of Stackpole’s work from the 1991 fire that devastated Oakland, including the photographer’s home. In his later years, Stackpole began an autobiography entitled Go Get ‘Em, Tiger, which remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1997.

The Peter Stackpole archive contains photographic materials and papers, dating from 1918 - 1997. This includes negatives, prints, biographical materials, writings, exhibition materials, publications, exhibition materials, and audiovisual materials, as well as 273 fine prints.

Images available to view online: 
265
Number of works in CCP print collection: 
272