Martha Swope: capturing the process

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Famous Broadway photographer Martha Swope began her career shooting one day of rehearsals for West Side Story.

Martha Swope: Photographer of Broadway
From 1957 to 1990, Martha Swope was one of the most prolific photographers of theatre and dance in the United States.  She began her career as a dancer, but a chance encounter with Jerome Robbins in 1957 changed her life, and the history of Broadway, forever.

In 1957, Jerome Robbins took a course at the School of American Ballet to prepare for rehearsals for WEST SIDE STORY.

One of Robbins' classmates was a dancer named Martha Swope. Swope and Robbins bonded over their shared hobby: amateur photography.

Robbins invited Swope to photograph rehearsals of his new musical.

Swope accepted the invitation and sent some of her images to Life Magazine, which published this one in the September 16th, 1957 issue.

Martha Swope went on to photograph many of the major plays and musicals on Broadway until the mid-1990s.

Martha Swope remembered
Martha Swope passed away in January of 2017 at the age of 88.  Her legacy survives both in her work and through those she trained.

Despite the enormous number of photos Swope took, she appears in relatively few herself.

"I think that photography is a craft, a tool. The art is in front of the camera. The art is the dancer…the actor. As a craftsman, you take, from what they are giving, what pleases you and what touches you"
~ Martha Swope, interview with Walter Terry for On Point: American Ballet Theatre, 1979 program.

One of Martha Swope's assistants, Carol Rosegg, soon became a successful theatre photographer herself. In the following videos, Rosegg recounts her memories of Swope.

How did you meet Martha Swope?

An iconic moment is rehearsed by Jerome Robbins and the cast.

The original production of WEST SIDE STORY was photographed by many photographers. Martha Swope, however, intimately captured its creation on a single day of rehearsal.

What do you think of when you remember Martha?

Credits: Story

Photos by Martha Swope & Friedman-Abeles
Photos copyright the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Exhibit curated by Doug Reside

Original 1957 Scenic Design by Oliver Smith, © Rosaria Sinisi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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