Margaret Bourke-White

1904-1971

Margaret Bourke-White was an American documentary photographer, the first woman to become a war correspondent.  She faced danger on the front lines in World War II and the Korean War.  She shot classic photographs of historical significance that were published in popular magazines, which brought the reality of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, civil unrest, and American and Russian industrial world to millions of readers.  

She attended several colleges and graduated in 1927 from Cornell University.  A year later she moved to Cleveland Ohio where she started a commercial photography studio concentrating on architectural and industrial photos.  One of her clients was Otis Steel Company, and her work was considered to be the best steel factory photographs of that era.  In 1929, she became associate editor and staff photographer of Fortune Magazine, which she held for six years.  In 1930, Bourke-White was the first Western photographer to take photographs of Soviet industry.  

In 1936, she was hired by Henry Luce as the first female photojournalist for Life Magazine where she worked until 1957.  Her work for “Life” was well known for using odd angles and unexpected points of view. She popularized the photo-essay and opened the way for women to compete with male journalists. Her assignments were varied. She was sent to Montana to photograph the largest man-made hydraulic dam in the world.  She returned with much more than construction photos of this New Deal project.   She turned her lens on the people who moved to the town of Fort Peck, Montana because of the Great Depression.  Married to novelist Erskine Caldwell, the couple collaborated on a book about conditions in the South during this time.  

She worked alongside Allied infantrymen in World War II.  In the spring of 1945, she traveled in Germany with General George Patton and photographed the dazed and emaciated prisoners after the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. She also recorded and documented the corpses of those killed there.

She was known in India and Pakistan for her photographs of Mohandas. K. Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.  She was a chronicler of the violence that erupted at the independence and partition of India and Pakistan, showing streets littered with corpses and refugees.  These photographs were taken just two years after those at Buchenwald. Finally in 1948, she interviewed and photographed Gandhi just a few hours before his assassination. 

Her photographs are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the New Mexico Museum of art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Library of Congress.

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