Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Margaret Bourke White
From alexwaterhousehayward.com

Margaret Bourke-White (June 14, 1904 – August 27, 1971) was an American photographer and documentary photographer. She is best known as the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures of Soviet Industry, the first female war correspondent (and the first female permitted to work in combat zones) and the first female photographer for Henry Luce's Life magazine, where her photograph appeared on the first cover.

‘Fort Deck Dam in Montana’
First cover of Life magazine
Getty Images / Walter Daran
From womenshistory.about.com

She was born in Bronx, New York, U.S.A. and grew up in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Her father, Joseph White, was an engineer-designer for the printing industry and her mother, Minnie Bourke White, worked in publishing. She was encouraged early by her parents to set high standards for herself. In 1922, she began studying herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) at Columbia University in New York. In 1925, she married Everett Chapman, a graduate student in engineering, but they divorced a year later. Before graduating from Cornell, she made a photographic study of the rural campus for the Cornell Alumni News. Following her graduation, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio to embark on a career in photography.
In 1929, she accepted a job with the new Fortune magazine as an associate editor. She was talented, took risks and was becoming more successful than some of her male colleagues.
(Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997 at distinguishedwomen.com)
A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Margaret Bourke-White first gained recognition as an industrial photographer based in Cleveland. "I stood on the deck to watch the city come into view," she said of her Lake Erie boat trip to the Ohio city. "As the skyline took form in the morning mist, I felt I was coming to my promised land ... columns of machinery gaining height as we drew toward the pier, derricks swinging like living creatures. Deep inside, I knew these were my subjects."
In 1930, Russia was in the midst of an industrial and cultural revolution. Its doors were all but closed to westerners, especially photographers. Bourke-White was attracted to Russia, but her editors at Fortune doubted that she would gain access. They instead sent her to Germany to photograph the emerging industry there.
She decided that she would go on her own, and after six weeks of waiting, her visa had cleared the Soviet bureaucracy. She loaded up her cameras along with trunks of food, and set off on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Russia was full of red tape for Bourke-White. Fortunately for her, an official was so impressed with her portfolio that he granted her a permit requiring all Soviet citizens to aid and assist Bourke-White whenever she needed it. Over the next five weeks, she traveled all over Russia, capturing dams, factories, farms, and their workers. She had taken nearly three thousand negatives of Russia, the first complete documentary of the newly emerging Soviet Russia. In the summer of 1931, she was invited back to Russia by the government. This time through Russia, she concentrated not on machinery, but on people. The New York Times Sunday Magazine published six articles that she had written about the trip, along with her photographs. In the summer of 1932, Bourke-White went back to Russia, this time to film. This trip, however, was mainly a failure, since Bourke- White was not technically adept and hadn't learned the skill of seeing in motion. As a result, her films did not have the same feeling her photographs had. She tried to sell the footage to a Hollywood studio, but they would not buy it because of their fear that it would be seen as propaganda.

Cover of You Have Seen Their Faces
From jamesdjulia.com

Two Women, Lansdale, Arkansas, 1936

Hamilton, Alabama, We manage to get along
BOURKE-WHITE, Margaret, & CALDWELL, Erskine
You have Seen their Faces
'Hamilton, Alabama, We manage to get along'
s.l., Viking Press 1937
From phomul.canalblog.com

Snuff is an almighty help when your teeth ache
BOURKE-WHITE, Margaret, & CALDWELL, Erskine
You have Seen their Faces
s.l., Viking Press, 1937
From phomul.canalblog.com

When the time comes to die
BOURKE-WHITE, Margaret, & CALDWELL, Erskine
You have Seen their Faces
s.l., Viking Press, 1937
From phomul.canalblog.com

In 1936, Bourke-white toured the south with the writer Erskine Caldwell to supply the pictures for the book ‘You Have Seen Their Faces’. The book was a photo documentary of the poor, rural people of the south. Later in 1936, Henry Luce decided to launch a picture magazine, spurred on by the success of European picture tabloids. In this magazine, pictures wouldn't be subservient to the text; the pictures would tell the story. The magazine was called Life and Bourke-White was one of the four original photographers hired. She covered everything from the New Deal towns springing up in the Midwest to the growing conflict in Europe.

Peasant women eating food from the same bowl
Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE
From benatlas.com

Russian children waiting their turn at a children's clinic, Moscow
Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE
From benatlas.com

Russian women loading crushed rock, Novorossisk
Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE
From benatlas.com

In early 1941, tensions were running high in Europe, and Life asked her to return to Russia, to make a comparison between the current Russia and the one that she saw ten years before. Bourke-White and Caldwell entered Russia though China. On July 22nd, the first bombs fell on Moscow and Bourke-White was the only foreign photographer present. The resulting pictures were a major scoop for Bourke-White and Life. She spent the next four years covering the European theater of war, its leaders, and the aftermath of the Nazi death camps. She also flew in American bombers on their bombing raids, taking pictures of the destruction.
(photo-seminars.com)As the war progressed, she was attached to the U.S. Army Air Force in North Africa, then to the U.S. Army in Italy and later Germany. She repeatedly came under fire in Italy in areas of fierce fighting.
"The woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed, was known to the Life staff as 'Maggie the Indestructible.'" This incident in the Mediterranean refers to the sinking of the England-Africa bound British troopship SS Strathallan which she recorded in an article "Women in Lifeboats", in Life, February 22, 1943.
In the spring of 1945, she traveled through a collapsing Germany with General George S. Patton. She arrived at Buchenwald, the notorious concentration camp, and later said, "Using a camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me." After the war, she produced a book titled Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly, a project that helped her come to grips with the brutality she had witnessed during and after the war.
Patton was so incensed by what he saw that he ordered his police to get a thousand civilians to make them see with their own eyes what their leaders had done. The MPs were so enraged they brought back 2,000. Bourke-White said, "I saw and photographed the piles of naked, lifeless bodies, the human skeletons in furnaces, the living skeletons who would die the next day... and tattooed skin for lampshades. Using the camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between me and the horror in front of me." LIFE published in their May 7, 1945 issue many photographs of these atrocities, saying, "Dead men will have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them."

Prisoners at Buchenwald, 1945
From masters-of-photography.com

This photo of the Communist prisoners at Buchenwald was taken on April 15, 1945 by Margaret Bourke White. This was a group of privileged prisoners who actually ran the Buchenwald camp, according to the Buchenwald report.
The Buchenwald Museum web site has this to say about the Little Camp at Buchenwald:
“When the inmates from Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen and other evacuated camps in the east were deported to Buchenwald at the end of 1944, the Little Camp became the “hell of Buchenwald”. With a population of far more than 10,000, it became a place of dying and death where the SS took the people they no longer had any use for in their subcamps. For example, thousands of sick and disabled inmates were brought to the Little Camp from Ohrdruf Subcamp. The so-called “Muselmann” became a symbol of the complete debilitation and immiseration of many inmates which led to their giving up all hope of survival. Corpses piled up in front of the barracks; some of the desperate prisoners even took to eating them. From the beginning of 1945 to the day of liberation, more than 5,000 died in this hell on earth.”
Regarding the orphans at Buchenwald, the Buchenwald Museum web site says:
“In January 1945, political inmates succeeded in convincing the SS to set up a kind of shelter, Barrack 66 in the Little Camp. There the children were protected from the hell of Buchenwald, they were not assigned to any labour detachments and they received somewhat more nourishing rations. Nearly 900 children and adolescents thus survived in this barrack, among them the later Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel as well as Robert Büchler, who would go on to research the history of their experiences.”
Margaret Bourke-White wrote or co-authored 11 books. Her most famous is You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), with Erskine Caldwell, on social conditions in the South during the Depression. Also see her informative autobiography, Portrait of Myself (1963). There are two good collections of her photographs which also contain biographical information, For the World to See: The Life of Margaret Bourke-White by Jonathon Silverman (1983) and The Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White, edited by Sean Callahan (1972).
"To many who got in the way of a Bourke-White photograph — and that included not just bureaucrats and functionaries but professional colleagues like assistants, reporters, and other photographers — she was regarded as imperious, calculating, and insensitive."
Her photographs are in a number of museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is also represented in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Mahatma Gandhi
From fotosus.eu

Portrait of Mahatma Ghandi
From poorwilliam.net

Portrait of Mahatma Ghandi, 1946
From selectedphotos.com

Unlike most photographers, she was as famous as her pictures. The images she captured are memorable enough on their own: a line of flood victims in Kentucky stretched in front of a billboard braying prosperity; the German bombardment of the Kremlin by night during World War II; Mohandas Gandhi reading newspaper clippings near a spinning wheel, the primitive tool he used to forge a subcontinent's independence. Millions of people saw these photographs and others equally striking in LIFE; the big news to many was that they had been taken by a woman.
Margaret Bourke-White's position behind her camera attracted attention that often rivaled the interest commanded by her subjects. She made headlines almost from the moment her career took off: THIS DARING CAMERA GIRL SCALES SKYSCRAPERS FOR ART. In the early 1940s, Hollywood issued a number of films based roughly on Bourke-White's character or exploits and starring the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Claudette Colbert and Ann Sheridan. When, in the 1950s, she contracted Parkinson's disease and underwent an experimental operation to arrest her deterioration, she shared her experience with LIFE readers and inspired a TV drama called The Margaret Bourke-White Story.
Such brilliant success, according to popular wisdom, must have left dark and dreadful shadows. Biographer Vicki Goldberg, an art and photography critic, has indeed dug behind the Bourke-White legend to find some details that the daring camera girl chose not to develop in her autobiography Portrait of Myself (1963). But these snippets hardly amount to the negative image of a triumphant life. Bourke-White did not outdistance her wildest dreams; she plotted her course to the top, assessed the costs along the way and willingly paid them all.
(Books: Fortunate Life Margaret Bourke-White by by PAUL GRAY Monday, Jun. 02, 1986 at time.com)