Sam Shaw: The Golden Age of Hollywood in Black & White

There is no doubt that you know the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blown up over the subway gate, taken while filming The Seven Year Itch. This and much more was part of the exhibition called Sam Shaw: Photographer of Stars which took place in the Prague City Gallery – House of Photography. And what’s more, all of the photographs are black and white.

Sam Shaw, an American photographer from Manhattan, was a man who dedicated his whole life to photography.  His artistic career began when he started to work as a reporter and photojournalist in Collier’s magazine. He traveled throughout the United States capturing the life of random people such as coal miners, longshoremen or jazz musicians from New Orleans.

In the 1950s Sam Shaw aimed at the film industry where he discovered his great potential. Besides images of Marilyn, he is also responsible for the shots of wide amount of movie stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren or Frank Sinatra. However, this is indeed just a fraction of all the actors he worked with. Furthermore, among his photographs we can find Ali Muhammad or Marcel Duchamp. It seems like everybody wanted to be immortalized by Sam Shaw.

In fact, the unique photographs of Marilyn were just a consequence of her and Shaw’s friendship. They met on the set and since then they became close friends who spent a lot of time together. Thanks to the presence of their interrelation the images of Marilyn are filled with the magic of spontaneity, emotions and charming atmosphere. Therefore today we can see Marilyn as a lovely and fragile woman who was hiding behind the image of the perfect Hollywood star. As Sam Shaw said: “I just want to show this fascinating woman, with her guard down, at work, at ease offstage, during joyous moments in her life and as she often was – alone.“

Later, Sam Shaw drew attention to the film production. He worked with the director John Cassavetes, who is known as the father of American independent cinema. They created movies such as Love Streams, Gloria, or A Woman Under the Influence. Nevertheless, Shaw remained loyal to photography.

Today, the photographic archive of Sam Shaw is a splendid utility for those who want to look back to the history of the Hollywood’s Golden Age full of icon figures and unforgettable personalities. Sam Shaw’s legacy and his photographs still have something to say to the world and they show us that if there is a passion in the things you do then it pays off and you make happy not only yourself but other people (or even the whole world?), too.


Text vznikl v rámci kurzu Angličtina pro žurnalisty Kabinetu jazykové přípravy.

Foto credit: Shaw Family Archives

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