One of Vogue’s first female photographers, Toni Frissell (1907-1988) is considered among the most pioneering photographic artists. Our vintage swimwear expert Pam from Glamoursurf looks back at some of the stunning swimwear photography of this phenomenal photographer.

Frissell began her career at Vogue as a caption writer when then editor Carmel Snow pointed her towards photography.  Her work appeared regularly in Vogue from 1931 to 1942 and in Harpers Bazaar from 1941 to 1950. She was also known for her pioneering photography during World War II where she became the official photographer of the Women’s Army Corps.

With her camera she documented the incredible efforts of nurses, front-line soliders, WACs, and African American Air-Fighters, in a way that would change the way the world saw the contributions of women and blacks in the service.

Famously stating, ‘I’d rather stalk with a camera than with a gun,’ Frissell’s work not only stalked, but dissected the lives and actions of her subjects.

In fashion, where earlier photographers relied upon controlled studio settings and static poses, Frissell placed her subjects in nature and in motion. Known for the imaginative angles, both physical and metaphorical, from which she photographed her subjects, Frissell captured far more with her camera than just surface aesthetics. She pioneered the fashion photograph into a snapshot of life.

This exquisite shot of a woman and child standing on a pier, appeared in the 1941 June issue of Vogue.

The woman balances a camera and holds the child’s hand, as if preparing him to take a picture, but he’s more distracted by the other camera, namely Frissell’s. With actual sand and water nowhere in sight, this work is a clever take on a beach scene as well as a cheeky look into a family ritual.

Two models chat on a diving board in this wonderful photograph.

One model wears a flared, belted tunic with chevron stripes and the other sports a blue denim bathing suit with white jersey shorts.

Frissell captured them at a very unusual angle, which gives this work a cinematic quality.

The image appeared in the 1936, July issue of Vogue.

Three models hold hands on a beach in this Frissell photograph, which appeared in the 1935, May issue of Vogue.

From left the model wears a beautiful white one-piece bathing suit with an open back and halter neck, while the model in the middle wears a white braided silk one-piece bathing suit with an open back and halter neck by B.V.D.

The model on the right wears a white ribbed knit one-piece bathing suit with dark straps and belt by B.V.D.

Despite the period styles, this work has a sense of timelessness, as it resembles more a portrait of friendship than a fashion moment.

A model swims with dolphins underwater in this spectacular Frissell photograph which appeared in the 1939, January issue of Vogue.

The model wears a striped, crinkled one-piece swimsuit by Brest.

A playful and dream-like shot, the unique angle and composition characterises Frissell’s underwater photography, and would lead her to take many more incredible shots of the female form in water.

 

 

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