Marie Cosindas (1923–2017)

Trailblazing color photographer Marie Cosindas, whose work first earned recognition in the 1960s, died on Thursday, May 25, at the age of ninety-three. Mary Green, the artist’s niece, confirmed her passing.

Born to Greek-American parents in Boston in 1923, Cosindas attended the city’s Modern School of Fashion Design in the 1950s and took evening classes in drawing and painting at what was then called the Boston Museum School (now the School of the Museum of Fine Arts). Cosindas’s interest in the medium of photography was sparked during a trip to Greece in 1959, previously she had only used photographs as models for paintings and did not consider them art. While studying with Ansel Adams shortly after, he told her she was “making black and white photographs, but thinking in color”—color photography at the time was mostly found in advertising—and recommended her to Polaroid. The corporation asked Cosindas to experiment with a new instant-developing color film, called Polacolor.

By the end of the 1960s, Cosindas developed her signature painterly style to capturing photographs. Reflecting back on her early work, the artist said she “tried everything: mixing light, temperature control, long exposures, extended development times and filters—and did everything I wasn’t supposed to do. The film responded. The results were like no other color I had used.”

In 1966, the artist had her first two solo shows at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and in 1978, John Szarkowski, MoMA’s photography curator, featured Cosindas in the landmark exhibition “Mirrors and Windows”—making her the fifth woman to have a solo show of photography at the museum. Other major exhibitions of her work have been held at the Art Institute of Chicago; the International Center of Photography in New York; and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

While Cosindas’s career would fade from public view over the years, she went on to photograph household names such as Yves Saint Laurent, Truman Capote, Coco Chanel, Robert Redford, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Peggy Guggenheim, and produced film stills. A retrospective of her work at the Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth in 2013 sparked a new surge in popularity for the artist.

Her work is represented in the collections of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; MoMA; the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.