Legendary Broadway Photographer Martha Swope Passes Away at 88

Martha Swope Collection, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

While many fans of musical theater and Broadway may not know it, uber-talented photographer Martha Swope played an immense part in how we viewed Broadway theater and NYC ballet before we ever got to experience it.

I am sad tonight at her passing. As a young, teenage artist, her images filled my head with ideas and wonder I dreamed of growing up in Texas.

From the New York Times:

Martha Swope, whose crisp, compelling photographs of dancers and actors at work recorded nearly half a century of stage history, died on Thursday in New York. She was 88.

The cause was Parkinson’s disease, said Jeanne Fuchs, her longtime friend and executor.

From 1957, when Ms. Swope was invited by Jerome Robbins to shoot rehearsals of “West Side Story,” to 1994, when she shut down her Times Square studio and sold her archive, Ms. Swope produced hundreds of thousands of images of performers in action, capturing Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in full flight, the cast of “La Cage Aux Folles” in full drag and John Travolta in full Saturday night fever.

Those photographs made their way into newspapers (the arts pages of The New York Times frequently featured her work), magazines and books. They decorated sales brochures, posters and programs.

BroadwayWorld adds:

Ms. Swope chronicled over 800 productions throughout her storied career, including rehearsal photos personally commissioned by Jerome Robbins of the original production of West Side Story in 1957, the original casts of La Cage Aux Folles, Sweeney Todd, Cats, Company, Chicago, and A Chorus Line, as well as her wealth of work within the dance world featuring artists such as Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Her work was frequently featured in The New York Times and Variety called her “the go-to photog” for the New York theatre community. Ms. Swope was awarded a Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater in 2004 and a lifetime achievement award from the League of Professional Theater Women in 2007.