Martha Swope Dies; Leading Photographer For Theater And Dance Was 88

Martha Swope/NYPL

Martha Swope, who photographed Broadway stars and prima ballerinas onstage and in mufti during a career that began in the late 1950s and extended into the 1990s, died Thursday in New York. The cause, the New York Times reported, was Parkinson’s disease. She was 88.

For more than four decades, Swope’s elegant, usually monochrome publicity photographs of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, as well as of classical and modern dancers, set the bar for performing arts photography. She frequently brought her cameras behind the scenes to document the

Sarah Jessica Parker and Sandy in 'Annie.'
Sarah Jessica Parker and Sandy in ‘Annie.’ Martha Swope/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

process of creating shows, her images chronicling the work not only of performers but of directors, writers, designers and others. That intimate access was first granted by director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, who hired her in 1957 to shoot rehearsals of West Side Story, and continued until she retired in 1994.

Thousands of Swope’s photographs, including the publicity shots for more than 800 productions, were published in newspapers and magazines around the world, along with Playbills, posters and other media. Her Times Square studio was also a launching pad for several generations of photographers who began as her assistants. In 2004, she was awarded a Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater. Three years later she received a lifetime achievement award from the League of Professional Theater Women.

In 2010 Swope donated her archive to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, which later exhibited a selection of her work.

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