Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White

American, 1904-1971

Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White was one of the most famous and most successful photographers of her time. Her combination of intelligence, talent, ambition, and flexibility made her an ideal contributor to the new group journalism that developed during the thirties. Bourke-White was already noted as a photographer of industrial subjects when she joined the staff of Fortune magazine in 1929 at the age of twenty-five. When Life magazine began publication in 1936, she escaped her industrial specialty and became a distinguished member of that select, glamorous, peripatetic, group of photographers who witnessed almost everything (in passing), and photographed it for an audience of millions.

Margaret Bourke-White

During her career at Life she photographed both Joseph Stalin and Mohandas Gandhi, and a good sampling of what lay between.

Bourke-White had an excellent sense of simple, poster-like design, and a sophisticated photographic technique, both perhaps the legacy of her apprenticeship in the demanding field of industrial reportage. She was excited by the new opportunities presented by photoflash bulbs, which made possible clear and highly detailed pictures under circumstances that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible for photography.

Margaret Bourke-White

The use of two or three bulbs, synchronized to flash together as the shutter was released, could produce a reasonable simulation of normal interior light.

Bourke-White became very skillful at this technique, which required especially delicate calculation when the level of the interior flash had to be balanced against the level of natural light visible through a room's windows. According to the accepted formula the outside landscape should be about twice as bright as the interior; otherwise the images seen through the windows would look like pictures on the wall.

Margaret Bourke-White

In case of the picture on the right, the photographer evidently miscalculated a little, but the picture is surely more interesting as it is than it would be if naturalistically correct. The two kindly old people sit in a room that is hermetically sealed with illusions.

from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski

Margaret Bourke-White / recommended books
Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer

The collection of Bourke-White's work is well produced, with deep tones and fine clarity, reminding those who admire her great gifts of composition and darkroom skill of her significance in the history of photography. Newcomers to her travels and her work will quickly discover a photojournalist and industrial artist whose professional journey left a stunning record of the century.

Margaret Bourke-white: The Early Work, 1922-1930 (Pocket Paragon Series)

In this brief collection of her earliest work, two art historians present the "unknown" Bourke-White, the young amateur aged eighteen to twenty-six. The eighty photographs reproduced here have seldom been seen outside the archives of Cornell's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the University of Syracuse Library. They will fascinate anyone interested in the life and work of Margaret Bourke-White and the early history of American photojournalism.

Margaret Bourke White

An inspiring biography of one of the most successful photojournalists of the 20th century, this life of Margaret Bourke-White is exactly the type of book teachers and parents of adolescent girls are looking for.

You Have Seen Their Faces

In the middle years of the Great Depression, Erskine Caldwell and photographer Margaret Bourke-White spent eighteen months traveling across the back roads of the Deep South--from South Carolina to Arkansas--to document the living conditions of the sharecropper. Their collaboration resulted in You Have Seen Their Faces, a graphic portrayal of America's desperately poor rural underclass.

Margaret Bourke-White quotes
  • The very secret of life for me was to maintain in the midst of rushing events an inner tranquillity. I had picked a life that dealt with excitement, tragedy, mass calamities, human triumphs and suffering. To throw my whole self into recording and attempting to understand these things, I needed an inner serenity as a kind of balance.
Margaret Bourke-White videos (YouTube)

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