A Deep Dive

03 Aug

Into the Pioneering Photography of Peter Stackpole on August 1 and 2, 1941

Photographer Peter Stackpole (1913-1997), was the son of artists, Ralph Stackpole and Adele Barnes Stackpole. Educated in the San Francisco Bay area and Paris, Peter Stackpole grew up under the influence of his parent’s friends and peers, Dorthea Lange, Edward Weston and Diego Rivera. Maturing in this supportive artist community, Stackpole began developing his photographic style at a young age. Stackpole’s appreciation for the hand-held camera and his developing technical expertise found a perfect subject in the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

In 1935, twenty-five of Stackpole’s bridge photographs were exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art. This led to several freelance projects and in 1936, when Henry Luce established his ground-breaking “picture” magazine LIFE, Stackpole was hired as one of the four staff photographers. Stackpole worked for LIFE from its founding until 1961, moving gracefully between photographing the glamorous and young in Hollywood, and the more routine lives of the laboring class, always endeavoring to present his subjects authentically.

“Stackpole’s portraiture of Hollywood stars created approachable and endearing characters, and is recognized as a pioneering contribution to “media culture,” solidifying Hollywood icons as a subject of fascination within popular culture.”

“Stackpole’s most dramatic moment happened in 1941, when he was assigned to rendezvous with Errol Flynn’s yacht Sirocco to take underwater pictures of Flynn spearing fish.”

“I used to be a kind of beach bum between assignments, but it never occurred to me to take underwater pictures,” Stackpole said. “I’d never seen an underwater camera. Fins weren’t invented yet, and face masks were few. I had a friend make up a plastic box to hold my oldest, most expendable Leica.”

“Aboard the yacht, Flynn fitted him with a pair of hand-carved wooden goggles to use underwater. Stackpole got 15 decent shots before his camera flooded [including] one shot of Flynn climbing the mast of the Sirocco.”

The photos from this shoot were not only technically and artistically masterful, they were also taken during what later proved to be the most tragically pivotal times in Errol’s career – a time he came to perpetually rue because of Miss Peggy LaRue.

— Tim


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  1. barb

    August 3, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Those underwater shots are incredible, even more so considering the technology that existed way back then.

  2. Claudia

    August 3, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Incredible underwater shots. I can‘t help but think Errol must have been a fish in a former life.

    The shot of him climbing the mast has always been one of my favorites. He looks completely and utterly happy. If only he had known what would come of this trip.

  3. Debbyphielix

    August 4, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    I love the picture of Errol on the yacht. He looks so happy and relaxed

  4. Paula

    August 4, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Astrologically, water is his dominant element. Moon in Cancer in particular. Hard shell, soft heart.

    • Selene Hutchison-Zuffi

      August 4, 2020 at 10:46 pm

      He was gemini. Not cancer.

    • Gentleman Tim

      August 4, 2020 at 11:10 pm

      Leaving the womb in the early a.m. on June 20, was Errol born on the cusp between Gemini and Cancer?

      • Selene Hutchison-Zuffi

        August 5, 2020 at 1:31 am

        Yes but cancer starts on the yes he was more like a cancer than a gemini. I am cancer..I am soo moody and temperamental like he was..etc. love water..

        • Paula

          August 5, 2020 at 5:07 pm

          His Sun sign was Gemini, that is correct. Yes, on the cusp with Cancer. His *Moon* was in Cancer, meaning the moon was in Cancer when he was born. The moon represents how someone deals with emotions. The horoscope is really the whole chart, the location of all the planets, when someone is born.