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Remembering Helen Marcus Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

6 November 2023

Helen Marcus, whose portraits of the famous made them immortal, died Oct. 1 at her home in Manhattan, the city of her birth. She was 97.

She was as well known for defending copyright and credit in the profession she only started practicing after abandoning a career as a TV producer.

Her immigrant Russian mother Augusta was a homemaker while her father, Joseph, owned several shoe stores.

After graduating from A.B. Davis High School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., she earned a bachelor's degree in theater and economics from Smith College in 1946.

After working with the theater director Hal Prince, Marcus was an associate producer and a producer from 1955 to 1974 at Goodson-Todman Productions, the company that developed popular television game shows like "To Tell the Truth," "Beat The Clock" and "What's My Line?"

'People are special to me.'

But she abandoned TV for photography, which had been a hobby. She had studied with Philippe Halsman, a Life magazine photographer, before taking the plunge

Known for her strong portraits and evocative lighting, she photographed many literary, film and television personalities including Anne Tyler, Norman Mailer, John Barth, Kitty Carlisle, Merv Griffin and Cliff Robertson.

She also counted many corporations as clients including Verizon, Volvo, Clairol and Fortune. Her magazine clients have included Time, Travel and Leisure, Publishers Weekly, Gourmet and Forbes.

"People are special to me," she said, "whether I photograph authors whose work I know, executives in the corporate boardroom or people in the streets or countryside whom one see fleetingly."

She saw location as an extension of the creativity of those people, reflecting their personality.

Her 1977 photograph of Toni Morrison inspired an etching used on a Swedish postage stamp. "It's probably the most reproduced photograph I ever made," she told an interviewer.

In 2008, she wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times complaining that a piece applauding the art director George Lois for designing striking covers for Esquire magazine ignored Carl Fischer, the photographer who had realized them. "It is akin to publishing pictures of the Sistine Chapel and mentioning the pope who paid for them," she wrote, "but not the painter."

She founded the New York chapter of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (later the American Society of Media Photographers) in 1982, serving as its national president from 1985 to 1990. From 1998 to 2007, she was president of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund established in 1979 to help independent photographers complete their projects.

Her work is in collections at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; Portland Museum of Photography, Portland, ME; International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany and International Center of Photography, New York, as well as in private collections.

In addition to her sister, Irene Feuerstein, she is survived by a brother, Carl. Another brother, Bernard, died before her.

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