Marilyn Stafford didn’t set out to be a photographer. She was born in Cleveland in 1925, just as Hollywood was emerging as an industry, and her parents saw her as the next Shirley Temple. Instead, Stafford set her sights on Broadway, moving to New York in 1947.

She also started tinkering with a camera. As if fate itself had chosen her path, Stafford found herself on a photo shoot in 1948, in the Princeton home of the physicist Albert Einstein. As she recently told The New York Times, someone handed her the camera and she took the picture. Stafford moved to Paris and forged a style that is sharp-eyed and empathetic. She documented the plights of war in the 50s and the cultural turbulence of the 60s. A skilled portraitist, she photographed India’s first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, while adding all kinds of people to her portfolio—the singer Édith Piaf, the writer Italo Calvino, the actress Sharon Tate, the architect Le Corbusier, and the children who followed her in the streets.

The British writer and activist Brigid Brophy, photographed by Stafford in London, circa 1960.

Despite her extensive output, Stafford remains less known than her male counterparts. A major show at the Brighton Museum, just a few miles from her home in East Sussex, U.K. (she is 96), may change all that. It is the most complete survey of Stafford’s work to date. —Elena Clavarino

“Marilyn Stafford: A Life in Photography” is on at the Brighton Museum through May 8

Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL