Librarian Deirdre Donohue tells us how her memorabilia collection of Sophia Loren became a photo exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York City.

This September, the month that Sophia Loren turned 80, the Library of the International Center of Photography in New York displayed an array of photographic publications featuring that exceedingly photographed and photographable star.

These items were gathered during the year 2000, when I was researching my book Sophia Style, which was published by Friedman Fairfax in 2001.

I had never intended to acquire so much Sophia Loren memorabilia, but, as a librarian, I was sorry to discover that most public, university and research libraries were not yet making resources about movie stars very accessible, so I began to buy vintage magazines with articles about Loren in them, and it grew from there. Each new thing I learned about Loren made me want to know more.

Sophia Loren Photo

The International Center of Photography in New York celebrated Sophia Loren's 80th birthday with a display of memorabilia and vintage magazines featuring the legendary beauty. (Photo: Courtesy of Deirdre Donohue)

One article in Life magazine called her “Europe’s Number One Cover Girl,” an interesting headline backed up with the claim that she was on the covers of over 300 magazines in 1955 alone. This was, I supposed, hyperbole, but I gradually came to think that the claim was a modest one as my stacks of publications proliferated.

Sophia Loren Photo

Sophia on the cover of Life magazine, which once dubbed her “Europe’s Number One Cover Girl.” (Photo: Courtesy of Deirdre Donohue)

Now with social media and e-commerce, there are thousands upon thousands of Sophia Loren photo postcards, cigarette cards, programs, posters, 8X10 glossies, lobby cards, magazines, and more, available in the world. 

The photo postcards, in particular, are something special. While adhering to glamour industry formulas, displaying many poses and styles, the 1950s and 1960s color postcards have a striking exuberance. They are snapshots of fashions in clothing, hair and makeup of a particular moment, and traces of one hard-working actress. In them Sophia Loren is seen in every possible outfit and hairstyle [and hair color] in every pose. Many of them are studio shots, not stills from films.

Sophia Loren Photo

Beautiful and blonde Sophia on the cover of the Swedish magazine Hemmets. (Photo: Courtesy of Deirdre Donohue)

Why is Sophia Loren, in particular, such a compelling subject for a photography library?

In 2000 I noted that few stars had the acumen and endurance to be photographed so well and so consistently as Loren. From a feminist perspective, I have also always thought that Sophia Loren is the primary author of this celebrity, a careful editor of her own images, and a great entrepreneur of publications with her image, from cookbooks to fashion magazines to advertising.

See more images from the exhibit:

In the early 1950s young Ms. Loren, then known as Sofia Lazzaro, made her living as a model for the popular photo romances [called fumetti in Italian, which means “puffs of smoke,” in reference to what we call "word balloons"], so her history of being seen in photo publications predates her cinema career.

A birthday party for Sophia at the ICP library featured a photo of the star by legendary photographer Alfred Eistenstaedt.(Photo: Courtesy of Deirdre Donohue)

A birthday party for Sophia at the ICP library featured a photo of the star by legendary photographer Alfred Eistenstaedt.(Photo: Courtesy of Deirdre Donohue)

It was truly a pleasure to throw a birthday party in the library with a photo cake – the image, from a print in the ICP’s collection, was by Alfred Eisenstaedt, taken for Life magazine in 1963. In it she literally has her nose stuck in a magazine… a great shot for a library cake.

Buon Compleanno, Sophia!

Sophia Style Photo

“Sophia Style” by Deirdre Donohue.

Deirdre Donohue is the Stephanie Shuman Librarian at the International Center of Photography and on the faculty of Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science and the ICP/Bard Master of Fine Arts in Adavnced Photographic Studies program. She started her career in 1985 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, and has been at ICP since 2001. Deirdre started to collect Sophia Loren memorabilia while researching her book Sophia Style.