Skip to Main Content
Marilyn Monroe

Facing West: Camera Portraits from the Bancroft Collection

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Facing West is a page-turner. Featuring about 150 camera portraits, with subjects ranging from the famous — Marilyn Monroe to Mark Twain, Albert Einstein to Muhammad Ali — to everyday people — steelworkers to rodeo cowboys, inmates to activists — the two-part, nearly yearlong exhibition explores some of The Bancroft Library’s most stunning photographs, mined from its mammoth collection. One photo at a time, the exhibit takes visitors from the mid-1800s into the present, highlighting the people and communities that make the West what it is. We asked Jack von Euw, Bancroft pictorial curator and the lead curator of Facing West, about a few of the photographs that appear in the exhibit.

“Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio Marriage, January 14, 1954”
Portrait by staff photographer Bryant, from The San Francisco Examiner

‘There were many photos of the couple together from The San Francisco Examiner assignment that day, but we liked this one that just focuses on Marilyn Monroe. She seems so joyful. It’s like an homage to Hollywood stardom.’

“Albert Einstein at Caltech,” 1931
By Johan Hagemeyer

‘Look at his face! He could be your uncle or your grandfather. Johan Hagemeyer took this portrait in 1931 when Einstein was visiting Caltech. One of the treasures in the pictorial collection is a small handmade album in which Hagemeyer affixed photographs of Einstein at Caltech.’

“Mexican woman,” ca. 1905-15
By unknown photographer in the Dominguez Studio, Mexico

‘The Dominguez Studio archive includes hundreds of glass plate negatives; only a few of them have been digitized. We liked the painted backdrop with a church in the background, which seems to fit with her religious medallion. The woman’s face, and her pose, is very strong and dignified.’

“Teo Dunlap at San Francisco County Jail 5, Feb 16, 2007”
By Robert Gumpert

‘This is from a series of images about justice and policing in San Francisco. Robert Gumpert has been photographing people in jail and recording their stories for many years. Dunlap’s portrait has an intensity, which seems to emanate from the image.’

“Russell Means, Co-Founder of the American Indian Movement,” 1973
By Michelle Vignes

‘Over the years, Michelle Vignes became almost the unofficial photographer of the American Indian Movement. Her best work is making long-form visual essays. I think this is one of her best portraits of Means; he seems contemplative. The background reminds me of a rock painting.’

“Woman with Glasses at Civil Rights Demonstration,” 1963
By David Johnson

‘There are terrific graphic elements to the image, apart from the reflection of the flag in her glasses. She’s set against this opaque background; it makes her stand out. I think this is part of David Johnson’s art, the ability to see graphically and empathetically.’

“AIDS March, San Francisco, June 1990”
By Clifford Baker

‘This portrait has an intriguing mix of exuberance and a sort of melancholy. Clifford Baker was photographing around the time of the AIDS crisis, and his photos reflect the combination of the celebratory mood in the gay community and the fear of that time.’

“A Woman Needs to Wear Trousers in War,” 1942
Self-portrait by Thérèse Bonney

‘Thérèse Bonney is not well-known in the modern era, and she should be. Her photos of Europe during World War II changed the way Americans understood the war. She was very courageous. She’s even the subject of a comic book, Photo-fighter.

“Maxine Hong Kingston,” 2015
By Judy Dater

‘This portrait is an allusion to the writer’s most famous work, The Woman Warrior. This irresistible photograph shows the subject’s obvious strength and fierceness of character.’