Peter Stackpole
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
San Francisco, California
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Novato, California
One of the first staff photographers for Life Magazine, Peter Stackpole is known for his photographs of the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and many images of Hollywood celebrities and supporting workers during the dozen years he spent as Life’s chief Hollywood photographer. Born in San Francisco in 1913, his father Ralph Stackpole (1885-1973) was a painter, sculptor and etcher and his mother Adele Barnes Stackpole (1885-1979) was an artist and designer of houses and furnishings. Peter and his parents lived in Paris for a few years during the early 1920s, where he attended the École Alsacsienne. His parents separated around this time, and Peter and his mother returned to Oakland in 1923, where he attended the local public schools, while his father lived in San Francisco. In his youth he met his parents’ artistic friends, such as Dorthea Lange (1895-1965), Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Edward Weston (1886-1958). Stackpole learned photography around 1929 while in junior high school, and bought a Leica 35 mm camera later that year. He was an apprentice photographer for the now-defunct Oakland Post Enquirer for two years while attending Oakland Technical High School, from which he graduated in 1932. A 1934 photo of former President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) napping at a University of California, Berkeley Charter Day ceremony was purchased by Time Magazine, leading to other assignments from Time, Inc. magazines. That year Stackpole began photographing the construction of the Bay Bridge, often climbing up the towers and cables with his small, hand-held Leica to take dramatic photographs of the bridge workers as well as the bridge itself. Shown to Willard Ames Van Dyke (1906-1986), the photographs led to an invitation to be a member of f/64, a group of leading San Francisco photographers such as Weston, Ansel Adams (1902-1984) and Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976). In 1935 some twenty-five of Stackpole’s Bay Bridge images were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and some of his bridge photographs were published in Vanity Fair. Other photographs of his appeared in Fortune and Time Magazine in 1935. Stackpole also photographed the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, primarily in 1936. His success led to his employment in 1936 as an original staff photographer for Life, along with Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995), Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) and Thomas McAvoy (1905-1966). He covered Hollywood for Life from 1938 until 1951, with an interruption for coverage of the World War II Saipan invasion during 1944-45. In 1951 he moved to New York City to work in Time, Inc.’s offices there. Stackpole was very interested in underwater photography, and he built equipment for underwater still and movie photography from 1941 until 1974. He won an award in 1954 for a dramatic underwater photography taken 100 feet under water. He also wrote a monthly column for U.S. Camera from 1953 until 1968. In all, his work was featured on 26 Life Magazine covers, and appeared in Time, Fortune, Vanity Fair and U.S. Camera, as well as Life. After leaving Life in 1961, Stackpole returned to the Bay Area where he worked as a free-lance photographer and taught at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. He published a book of his Bay Bridge photographs in 1984. The Stanford Art Gallery mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1986. The Oakland Hills fire of 1991 destroyed his home and most of his collection of negatives from his sixty-year career. He later moved to Novato, CA, where he died of congestive heart failure in 1997. (TNB 12/2013) Selected bibliography: Aronow, Abe. “Peter Stackpole.” University of Arizona, Center for Creative Photography. Fels, Thomas Weston, et al. Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography, 1849-1950. Exhibition catalog, pp. 120, 156, 183. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1992. Frye, L. Thomas and Therese Heyman. Peacetime, Wartime & Hollywood: Photographs of Peter Stackpole. Exhibition catalog. Oakland: Oakland Museum, 1992.