Amanda Plummer with Tammy Grimes (A Month
in the Country, 1979). Photo by Martha Swope.
The photographer Martha Swope was a small-town girl from Texas who moved to New York City with dreams of becoming not a well-known photographer but a ballerina. While studying at the
School of American Ballet, fellow-dancer Jerome Robbins asked her to photograph a piece he was working on – what would become West Side Story - and it was through that work that her life as a photographer took root.
Until her retirement in 1994, Martha photographed hundreds of theatre and dance performances the world over, amassing an important portfolio that has been housed at the New York Public Library since 2010. NYPL has been steadily digitizing the tens of thousands of images so that her legacy will live on for countless generations. (NYPL Swope Digital Collection)
Nathan Lane and Kaye Ballard
(She Stoops to Conquer,
1984). Photo by Martha Swope.
Martha Swope was Roundabout Theatre’s staff photographer from 1979 through 1993. She was friends with the company’s first press agent, Susan Bloch, and many of Roundabout’s earliest moments were captured on film by her. I had the great privilege of meeting Martha when I first arrived at Roundabout while researching the company’s history. We spent countless hours talking about Roundabout’s work and that of the many important companies and artists over the past half-century. Hearing about and seeing performing arts through the eyes of Martha Swope had a profound effect.
Martha had a remarkable gift for seeing an artist’s greatest talent and capturing that performance on stage, in the rehearsal hall, and in private moments. Her photography truly captures the simultaneous action of effort and effortlessness that all great performers embody and she turned what was before considered mere photo documentation into an art form.
Rest in peace, Martha. You will be greatly missed by me and the entire staff of Roundabout Theatre.
Tiffany Nixon, Archivist, Roundabout Theatre Company
Related Categories: In Memoriam