New York photographer Sam Shaw began his artistic career as a sculptor and painter while working for Romare Bearden’s atelier. He transitioned to become the political cartoonist for the Daily Worker and the art director for the Brooklyn Eagle. In the early 1940s, Shaw was hired as a photojournalist for Collier’s Magazine. From his articles on coal miners in West Virginia and stories of New Orleans jazz musicians, Shaw built influence and a recognized name. By 1951, he picked up interest in the film industry, working as on various sets. It is during this time that Shaw produced some of his most iconic photography, like the images of Marilyn Monroe with Arthur Miller or Monroe over the subway grate on the set of “The Seven Year Itch,” a scene which he engineered himself.
Led by his camera, Shaw traveled to many cities in the U.S. and Europe, absorbing and capturing local culture. While traveling through Italy, Shaw became intrigued with Cinécitta (Cinema City)—a second Hollywood of sorts. After returning to the United States, Shaw spring boarded into the film industry and worked closely with Billy Wilder, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando, et al. He also worked closely with John Cassevettes to produce a film series where the actors improvised their individual characters.
Sam Shaw is known for the celebrated photographs he took of Marilyn Monroe, whom he met in the early 1950’s when he was working as a photographer on the set of Viva Zapata. They became close friends and Marilyn drove Shaw to the set every morning. The period 1954 to 1958 was a time when Marilyn tried to shed her blonde sex bombshell image and moved to New York to study acting. Shaw’s photographs show the screen icon in some of her happiest, off-guard moments, cuddling with playwright Arthur Miller (who became her third husband in 1956), shopping in Manhattan or splashing at the beach in Amagansett, NY. In 1954, it was Shaw who suggested the famous sequence of Marilyn’s skirt blown up over a street grate in The Seven Year Itch. When asked about Shaw, Marilyn said, “He always makes me look my best.” When asked about Marilyn, Sam explained, “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.” In January 2014, the publication by Newsweek of Marilyn’s scrapbook disclosed further details about their personal relationship.
Sam Shaw’s photographic archives cover over 60 years of American history from social essays, film documentation, icon figures, and legendary personalities. His work has been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and art fairs, in numerous traveling exhibitions, and in important institutional and private collections.
© Sam Shaw