Life magazine photographer featured in On Photography
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On Photography

On Photography: Marie Hansen, 1918-1969

“A good news photographer, particularly in magazine work, must fill some rather awesome qualifications. He, or she, must have a reporter’s nose for news, a movie director’s sense of the dramatic, an artist’s eye for composition and lighting, a scientist’s interest in chemistry and optics, and a public relations expert’s diplomacy.” -Marie Hansen

Louisville Courier-Journal

Marie Hansen began her career at the Louisville newspaper by writing a letter of application to become a reporter before she had graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree. As she worked at the Courier-Journal she found the paper needed a photographer much more than a reporter. So she did the news photography for a year. She gained experience with cameras, the darkroom and discovered that she preferred photojournalism to the written version.

Role reversal: Life photographer Marie Hansen in the makeup chair for her screen test in Hollywood.

Life magazine

Hansen joined Life in 1941. She was one of six (some say seven) women photographers at the magazine. She was definitely an intruder into a man’s world. It was a time of challenge and learning. Based in Washington, D.C., she covered politics, the war (WWII) then moved on to Hollywood to make photos of celebrities. She covered the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.

She married Life correspondent David Wesley Nussbaum in 1944. She retired from contributing to Life in 1951. She joined the staff of the California Institute of the Arts.

Photojournalism — women and men

Marie Hansen realized and wrote that women photojournalists had the same capabilities as men. She worked hard to be accepted as equal. Early in her career, she overcame the stigma that a woman could not work in a photographic darkroom with a man. A tough Capitol newsman once said that he considered her a “gentleman” and that she had his support. She said she considered it a compliment and that it showed her how women had to engage at work. She notes about her female colleagues …

“But women, I fear have to push themselves into an interest in the chemistry of the darkroom or the mathematical background of their lenses or new developments in film and lighting. Lack of technological knowledge is the woman photographer’s one salient weakness.”

Read more On Photography.

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