Biography: photographer Toni Frissell

Biography: photographer Toni Frissell

Toni Frissell (1907 – 1988) was an American photographer, known for her fashion photography, World War II photographs, portraits of famous Americans and Europeans, children, and women from all walks of life.

Frissell worked with many famous photographers of the day, as an apprentice to Cecil Beaton, and with advice from Edward Steichen. She initially worked for Vogue in 1931 as a fashion photographer for Vogue in 1931, and 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 traveled 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. Toni Frissell died of Alzheimer’s disease on April 17, 1988.

Lisa Fonssagrives at Victoria Station, London, 1951

Lisa Fonssagrives at Victoria Station, London, 1951. Photo: Toni Frissell

Toni Frissell, 1950

Toni Frissell, 1950.

Weeki Wachee Mermaids, Florida, 1947

Weeki Wachee Mermaids, Florida, 1947. Photo: Toni Frissell

1937 photograph of Frida Kahlo for Vogue

1937 photograph of Frida Kahlo for Vogue. Photo: Toni Frissell

Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by Frissell, March 1945.

Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by Frissell, March 1945. Photo: Toni Frissell

Weeki Wachee, Florida (1947).

Weeki Wachee, Florida (1947). Photo: Toni Frissell