Sam Shaw, born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was a man of the world, with a passion for art, photography and film. He began his artistic career as a sculptor and painter, while working in the atelier of Romare Bearden. He moved on to become the political cartoonist for the Daily Worker and then art director for the Brooklyn Eagle. In the beginning of the 1940's he was hired as a reporter and photojournalist for Collier's Magazine. Sam became known for his reportages of coal miners in West Virginia and stories on New Orleans jazz musicians, many of whom became his lifelong friends. By 1951, he had started working in the film industry as a special photographer; among his most celebrated images are the ones on the set of the movie "The Seven Year Itch", such as the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate.
Sam traveled to many cities in the U.S. and Europe, absorbing local culture through his camera. He became intrigued with Cinécitta (Cinema City), considered the second Hollywood, located in Italy. After returning to the United States Sam became more involved in film and worked closely with Billy Wilder, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando and many other cinema legends. He worked closely with John Cassevettes producing a series of films where the actors created their characters on screen through improvisation.