Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Peter Stackpole ’31
Peter Stackpole grew up surrounded by artists so it was no surprise that he became one. His father was the sculptor Ralph Stackpole, a leading artist in the 1920s and 1930s, and his mother was Adele Bames, also an artist. His parents were friends with the painter Diego Rivera and the photographer Dorothea Lange.
While at Tech, Peter took up photography and was a quick learner with the new compact 35mm cameras. His photographs appeared in the Scribe News and the Scribe Annual (yearbook) where he is referred to as “staff photographer.” Peter was also active in the Aviation Club, a club devoted to experimenting with model airplanes. In 1930, he took second prize in the annual contest sponsored by the Oakland Tribune. Within a few years of graduating from Tech, Peter began taking the photographs that launched his career as a professional photographer.
Fascinated with the construction of the Bay Bridge (1933-36) and the Golden Gate Bridge (1933-37), he photographed their construction. His work came to the attention of the editors of Life, a large format weekly magazine that adorned coffee tables across America from the 1930s through the 1970s, and he was hired as one of its first staff photographers in 1936.
In a career with Life that lasted until 1960, Stackpole became famous for the photographs he took Hollywood and his work was on the magazine’s cover twenty-six times. Although he photographed many of the movie stars of the day including Jane Mansfield, Kirk Douglas, and Vivien Leigh, he always maintained in interviews that he was more interested in the stagehands and extras than in the stars. His work also appeared in Time, Vanity Fair, and Fortune.
After leaving the magazine in 1960, Stackpole taught at the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco and wrote a column for US Camera. Stackpole had a dark room and workshop at his home in the Oakland Hills. When his home burned in the big fire of 1991, he had time to save only the photos of the bridges that had launched his career. After his death in 1997 at the age of 83, his obituary in the New York Times referred to him as the “Chronicler of California.” He had three children.