MARY MORRIS STEINER LAWRENCE 1914-2009
August 26, 2009
A tweet from the Monroe gallery in Santa Fe alerted me to the sad fact that Mary Morris Lawrence died earlier this month. Here's a link to a story in The San Fransisco Chronicle:
"In 1937 she became the first female photojournalist hired by New York's Associated Press. She was photographer and Hollywood columnist for New York's progressive tabloid PM, shot photo stories for Look Magazine, and produced a variety of award-winning projects in a world-roving career. "I was good in the newspaper business," she said, "because I had this way of wanting to get the dope. I had an aggressive nature, a creative spirit." Her trail-blazing career is chronicled in books and periodicals, one describing "a 23-year-old wisp of a girl, with a thick mass of tousled brown hair and dancing blue eyes, Miss Mary Louise Morris ... daily faring forth with camera slung over her shoulder to cover every variety of news and feature story." SF Chronicle, Aug 23, 2009
L to R: Max Lerner, Lou Cowan, Mary Morris Steiner, Polly Cowan, Ralph Steiner (biting my mom's shoulder,) photo set up by Mary or Ralph, shot by Edna Lerner.
The SF Chronicle article omits the fact that Mary was married to Ralph Steiner, iconic American photographer. Mary told me in a phone conversation last year that when she and Ralph were partners in their New York City photography studio, they split the shooting equally, but he got all the credit. They didn't really pay attention to who was shooting, who was setting up the shots, who was climbing the ladder. It was all in a day's work. She didn't care. The paycheck came in and that was pretty much what mattered at the time. I don't think either one of them realized at the time how famous he would become and how relatively, but not completely, obscure she would become. So those Ralph Steiner photographs that are now highly collectible, the ones done in the NY studio might be by Mary.
Photo by Mary Morris Steiner (Mary Morris Lawrence, for google's sake) Polly Cowan and baby Liza Cowan circa 1950
Another obit, somewhat more substantial, from The Oakland Tribune: "In his 1938 book, "Get That Picture!" cameraman A.J. Ezickson described her as a hard worker and a cunning "scout," gaining access with her small RolleiFlex camera to scenes her less enterprising colleagues (the same ones who made "sly jibes" about Morris Lawrence) were barred from by using her wits but never "feminine wiles."
Last year Mary and I discussed the possibility of her having a retrospective exhibit here at PSAW, but there were more technical difficulties than I could overcome from 3,000 miles away. The 95 year old Morrie lived in San Francisco and had only original prints of her work, which she did not want to ship to Vermont. I'd have been happy with scans but we never worked out the logistics of having them made and printed. Alas.
Morrie only published one book in her lifetime, Bringing Up Puppies, A Child's Book of Dog Breeding And Care, written by Jane Whitbread Levin, who was a lifelong friend of Morrie's. Jane's son tells me that they first met at camp, and then became friends again later at PM newspaper.
Bringing Up Puppies, by Jane Whitbread Levin and Mary Morris Steiner (Lawrence)
So here 's to you Morrie, talented, brave and wise. You will be missed.