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Peter Stackpole archive

Identifier: AG 169

Scope and Contents

The Peter Stackpole archive contains what personal papers and photographic materials survived the devastating Oakland, California fires of 1991, which consumed the house and possessions of photographer Peter Stackpole (1913-1997). The bulk of the archive is photographic materials that document the work of the photographer from 1930 to 1950. These include negatives of Stackpole’s photographs of the construction of the San Francisco Bay bridges and other negatives of his early photographic work as well as negatives of many of his Hollywood assignments. A comparison of Stackpole’s Life assignment cards with negatives surviving in his archive indicates that many negatives are missing. The TIME Inc. Picture Collection has most of the material Stackpole shot on assignment in either negative, black and white print, or color transparency form. Also included in the archive are personal papers, the beginnings of an autobiography, one of Peter Stackpole’s published books, exhibition materials, activity files, audiovisual materials, and works by others. Stackpole’s correspondence, financial records, many of his negatives, all of his color work, fifty paintings by his wife, Hebe, and a number of sculptures by his father, Ralph Stackpole, were lost in the fire. The few materials that were saved were rescued by Stackpole and his friend and neighbor, Floyd Winter, moments before the conflagration consumed the house.


  • circa 1920-2000


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement

Biographical Note

Peter Stackpole was born on June 15, 1913 at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, California, to the noted sculptor, Ralph Stackpole, and his artist wife, Adele Barnes Stackpole. His early years were spent in the Bay area, but he attended the Ecole Alsacienne in Paris in 1923, when his parents were living in France. Stackpole’s parents were separated, and his mother made her residence in Oakland while his father lived in San Francisco after their return from France.

Stackpole attended Oakland’s Technical High School and developed a keen interest in photography in 1929. His first camera was an Agfa Memo half-frame model, but he purchased a 35mm Leica Model A and began to take the candid photographs that were soon to make him famous. While he was working for the Oakland Post-Enquirer, an unpaid position, he was sent with the newspaper’s regular photographers to shoot the Max Baer fight. The regulars, with their Graflexes and Speed Graphics, had to remain at some distance from the ring, but Peter Stackpole with his Leica was able to get much closer, and he captured the action of the fight, an achievement with profound implications for photojournalism.

In 1930, the San Francisco Stock Exchange employed Ralph Stackpole to carve the stone sculptures that decorate its exterior and Diego Rivera to paint the interior murals. The elder Stackpole and Rivera became friends and one of Rivera’s great murals features young Peter Stackpole as the central figure holding a model airplane. Another of Ralph Stackpole’s friends was Edward Weston. Early in 1932, or possibly late in 1931, Ralph and Peter drove down to Carmel to visit Weston. The great proponent of straight photography spent the afternoon showing his visitors examples of his work, and there is no doubt that young Stackpole was influenced by the experience. Later in 1932, Stackpole saw the photography exhibition of Group f/64 at San Francisco’s De Young Museum. The group included Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Willard Van Dyke among others. It has been said that this early exposure to the work of Group f/64 made Peter Stackpole “aware of the difference between making and taking a photograph, between the intended and the random.” [Mozley, Anita. The Bridge Builders, (Corte Madera, CA. : Pomegranate, 1984) p. 118]

Stackpole’s early appreciation for the benefits of a hand-held camera and his developing technical expertise found a perfect subject in the construction of the San FranciscoOakland Bay Bridge. With it, he was able to capture the details of the work itself as well as the drama of the situation. Stackpole showed some 5x7 prints of his bridge work to Willard Van Dyke in 1934 and Van Dyke was very enthusiastic about them. According to Anita Mozley, “Van Dyke was struck by their uniqueness, their freshness, and by the extraordinary eye behind them. He admired the thoroughness of the documentation, the hard-won, step-by-step portrayal of the men and the bridge as the work progressed. To him, the photographs seemed ‘less studied,’ more alive and original, than any documentary series he had seen.” [Ibid.] It was because of the bridge photographs that Van Dyke proposed Peter Stackpole for membership in Group f/64. Stackpole was admitted and found in the group an admiring audience and a source of inspiration.

In 1935, twenty-five of Stackpole’s bridge photographs made up an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Imogen Cunningham suggested that Stackpole send some of these prints to the editor of Vanity Fair, Frank Crowninshield, who published a selection of them in the July issue of that year. An Oakland Tribune editor saw Stackpole’s photographs and assigned him to cover the Charter Day ceremonies at the University of California. It was here that Stackpole captured former-President Herbert Hoover dozing during the remarks after he was presented with an honorary degree. This image gained Peter Stackpole the attention of the editors of Time magazine. Their colleagues at Fortune assigned Stackpole to do an informal essay on William Randolph Hearst, and these 35mm color photographs, which appeared in October, 1935, were the first ever published by the magazine. Time, Inc. was pleased and, in 1936, named Peter Stackpole a staff photographer for their new magazine Life. The other three photographers listed on the first issue’s masthead were Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Thomas McAvoy.

It was an excellent choice: Stackpole worked for Life from its founding until 1961. After his appointment, he returned to the West coast in 1937, making the cross country drive with his friend Willard Van Dyke. The two made a number of photographic essays on their route, but none of them were published. On his return to California, Stackpole married Hebe Daum, a painter and photographer in her own right, and the two remained married until Hebe’s death in 1993. Stackpole was Life’s chief Hollywood photographer from 1938 until 1951, when he moved East to work in the magazine’s New York office. During World War II, he was a war correspondent attached to the Navy and covered the invasion of Saipan in 1944. Over the course of his career, 26 of his images graced the cover of Life and countless other images ran inside the magazine. An examination of his assignment cards reveals an extraordinary breadth of work, not all of which survives in his archive.

Stackpole remained intrigued with the technical aspects of photography throughout his career. He developed a particular expertise for underwater photography, making special containers and underwater cameras in his own workshop. In 1953, he won the George Polk Memorial Award for News Photography for an unprecedented picture of a diver’s tragic attempt to set a new record for deep sea diving. During the 1950s, Stackpole wrote a monthly column for U.S. Camera called “35mm Techniques.”

Stackpole retired from Life in 1961 and returned to California. He taught photography for several years at the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco and worked as a freelance photographer. His agent, Camera Press in London, placed his pictures in numerous publications including Saturday Evening Post, Smithsonian, LIFE Books, Time, Scientific American, Venture and many overseas publications including Paris Match. Stackpole and Hebe built their house on Taurus Avenue in Oakland at this time and lived there until 1991 when the Oakland fires destroyed it along with almost all its contents.

Stackpole’s work was featured in a number of exhibitions after his retirement. The John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco held a Stackpole exhibition in 1976, as did the Douglas Elliott Gallery in 1981. In 1986, the Stanford Art Gallery held a retrospective exhibition of Stackpole’s work. This was followed in 1987 by a major exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. In the same year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art included much of Stackpole’s work in their exhibition, “The Hollywood Photographers.” It was the Oakland Museum’s double exhibition of Stackpole’s work in 1991 that saved a great part of Stackpole’s work. The prints displayed in “Peacetime to wartime” and “Mr. Stackpole Goes to Hollywood” had been removed from the Stackpole’s home in September, 1991, and were not destroyed by the fire that devastated Oakland in October. Stackpole’s photographs were included in an exhibition called “Masters of Photojournalism” held at the Circle Gallery in San Francisco in 1991. Several Stackpole images were included in the 1992 Oakland Museum exhibition “Seeing Straight: the f64 Revolution in Photography.” Stackpole participated in an exhibition at the Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco in 1993. In 1994, he and his daughter, Kathie, held a joint exhibition of Stackpole’s photographs and Kathie’s stained glass at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station, California.

Several books featuring Peter Stackpole’s photographs appeared after his retirement. The first of these was The Bridge Builders (1985) which included many of Stackpole’s Leica prints with a text written by Anita Mozley. In 1987, a PBS documentary called The Bridgemen aired on public television featuring Stackpole’s stills as well as some of his 16mm film footage. It was narrated by Diane Feinstein. In 1991, the Clark City Press brought out Peter Stackpole, Life in Hollywood and in 1995, Starr Jenkins used Stackpole’s photographs of parachute firemen employed by the U. S. Forest Service in his book, Smokejumpers ’49: Brothers in the Sky (Merritt Starr Books, San Luis Obispo, CA).

In 1996, Stackpole began to write his memoirs and applied the title, Go Get ‘Em, Tiger to his working draft. He completed only twenty pages of this draft before his death in 1997. The manuscript begins by describing his introduction to photography and continues with anecdotal reminiscences of his first job at the Oakland Post-Enquirer, his coverage of the Max Baer fight, and his inspired work on the building of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. He briefly reminisces about a number of notable people including Diego Rivera, Edward Weston, John Steinbeck and William Randolph Hearst. His hiring by the editors of Time, Inc. for their new publication, Life, is described and he recounts brief memories of some of the people he met in the course of his work: these include Hansel Mieth, Wilson Hicks, Carl Mydans, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Willard Van Dyke, with whom Peter Stackpole took a cross country journey during his first vacation from work. After describing their failed interview with Mabel Dodge Luhan and their successful meeting of D.H. Lawrence’s widow, Frieda, and Aldous Huxley, the manuscript ends with a description of Hebe Damm, the woman Stackpole would shortly marry

Stackpole died on May 11, 1997. His family has made a series of sequential gifts to the Center for Creative Photography since 1998.

Brief Chronology

Peter Stackpole born June 15 at San Francisco’s St Francis hospital
attends Ecole Alsacsienne, Paris
takes first pictures with 35mm Leica
Ralph Stackpole commissioned to make stone sculptures for SF Stock Exchange; Diego Rivera commissioned to paint interior murals. Peter Stackpole with model airplane is central figure in one of the murals
1930 – 32
attends Technical High School, Oakland, California
1931 or 1932
visits Edward Weston in Carmel, California, with his father, Ralph
– works as apprentice photographer on Oakland Post Enquirer
1934 – 1936
photographs the building of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and, later, the Golden Gate Bridge
joins Group f/64 on invitation by Willard Van Dyke
photographs former President Hoover dozing during the Charter Day ceremonies at the University of California, Berkeley, California
begins taking photographs for Time magazine
photographs of the Bay Bridge construction appear in Vanity Fair
takes informal photographs of William Randolph Hearst. These are the first 35mm color photographs published by Fortune (October, 1935 issue)
Bay Bridge construction photographs exhibited at San Francisco Museum of Art
joins LIFE as one of the original four staff photographers (the others were Alfred Eisenstaedt, Thomas McAvoy, and Margaret Bourke-White)
travels with Willard Van Dyke across the country for Life (no photographs of the trip were published)
marries Hebe Daum in Oakland on July 19
1938 – 51
works at Los Angeles bureau of Life primarily covering motion picture industry
daughter, Katherine Stackpole, born
1941 – 74
invents and builds equipment for underwater still and motion picture photography
serves as war correspondent attached to U.S. Navy covering Saipan invasion
daughter, Anne Trina Stackpole, born
son, Timothy Peter Stackpole, born
1951 – 61
transferred to New York office of Life
awarded the George Polk Memorial Award for News Photography (for “a dramatic and unprecedented picture, taken 100 feet under water”)
1953 – 68
writes a monthly column for US Camera called “35mm techniques”
given an award by the Underwater Film Festival, Los Angeles
resigns from Life, and returns to Oakland as freelancer
teaches photography at the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco
1961 – 97
his agent, Camera Press, London, places photographs and articles in Saturday Evening Post, Smithsonian, LIFE Books, Time, Scientific American, Venture and many overseas publications including Paris Match
builds home on Taurus Avenue in Oakland, California
exhibition at John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
exhibition at Douglas Elliott Gallery, San Francisco
The Bridge Builders with Anita Mozley published by Pomegranate Artbooks
“Retrospective Show” exhibition at Stanford Art Gallery
“The Hollywood Photographers” exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art
receives the Marcus Foster Award for significant contributions to reading in California
The Bridgemen is shown on public television with narration by Dianne Feinstein
the Oakland fire kills 25 people and destroys Peter and Hebe Stackpole’s home along with 3,354 others (October 20)
moves to Novato, California
two exhibitions open at Oakland Museum of Art: “Peacetime to Wartime” and “Mr. Stackpole goes to Hollywood”
“Masters of Photojournalism” exhibition opens at Circle Gallery, San Francisco
Peter Stackpole, Life in Hollywood is published by Clark City Press
receives the Joseph Sprague Award from the National Press Photographers Association
“Seeing Straight: the f/64 Revolution in Photography” exhibition opens at the Oakland Museum
Hebe Stackpole dies (October 20
exhibition at Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco
joint exhibition of works by Peter and of his daughter, Katherine Stackpole Bunnell, opens at Gallery Route One, Point Reyes Station, California
Smokejumpers, ’49: Brothers in the Sky by Starr Jenkins, photographs by Peter Stackpole is published by Merritt Starr Books, San Luis Obispo, California
Peter Stackpole dies (May 11)


6 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Photographic materials and papers, circa 1920-2000, of Peter Stackpole (1913 - 1997), photographer. Includes photographic materials and a small amount of biographical materials, writings, exhibition materials, publications, and audiovisual materials.


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Personal papers, n.d., circa 1920-1997, 1 box
  2. Series 2: Writings/publications, 1992-1997, 1 box
  3. Series 3: Exhibitions, n.d., 1986-1997, 1 box
  4. Series 4: Activity files, 1936-1996, 1 box
  5. Series 5: Audiovisual materials, 1986-1991, 1 box
  6. Series 6: Works by others, n.d., 1983-1991, 1 box
  7. Series 7: Other materials, n.d., 1937-1949, 1 box

Series 8: Photographic materials, n.d., 1930-1992, 9 boxes

  1. Subseries 1: Negatives, n.d., 1930-1992, 7 boxes
  2. Subseries 2: Contact sheets, n.d., 1960-2000, 1 box
  3. Subseries 3: Work prints, n.d., 1931-1992, 1 box
  1. Series 9: Oversize materials, n.d., circa 1923, 6 boxes
  2. Appendix A [Index of individuals and subjects represented in the negative files]

Custodial History

The collection was given to the Center for Creative Photography by the family of Peter Stackpole beginning in 1998.


Additional materials were received in 2000 as a gift of the Stackpole family.

Processing Information

Processed 2000 - 2001 by Shaw Kinsley. Finding aid was updated by Tai Huesgen in 2019 and 2020.


Peter Stackpole archive circa 1920-2000
Finding aid created by CCP Archives Staff
© 2020
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid encoded in English

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States