Stunning stock photos from the 1950s are nostalgic time machines

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Photo by Michelle Robertson


The photo collection at Getty Images is a dark and wonderful place. Alongside surprisingly mundane images of miscellaneous foods and household objects are inexplicable pictureslike a murder scene unfolding or a toddler seemingly smoking a cigarette.

But the world of stock footage wasn’t always so unsettling. In the 1950s, commercial photography was downright alluring, especially in the hands of Tom Kelley Sr.

Seduction is an apt word when it comes to Kelley’s retro images; he is best known for a 1949 photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe, posing nude against a red velvet curtain.

At the time, 22-year-old Monroe had not been discovered and she reportedly agreed to pose for the outrageous shoot in exchange for $50. Individual prints are now worth thousands.


Kelley continued to photograph less controversial subjects later in his career (namely advertising imagery), but 70 years after the fact, his colorized photos of everyday scenes and objects continue to fascinate.

We’ve selected some of our favorites from the photo gallery above.

Michelle Robertson is an editor at SFGATE. Email him at [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @mrobertsonsf.

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