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Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971)
Margaret at Home, 1964


Margaret Bourke-White ( ; June 14, 1904August 27, 1971) was an Americanmarker photographer and documentary photographer. Farrah Fawcett starred in a TV movie about her life, Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White (1989).

Early life

Margaret Bourke-White was born in the Bronxmarker, New Yorkmarker, to Joseph White (who came from an Orthodox Jewish family) and Minnie Bourke, the daughter of an Irish ship's carpenter and an English cook; she was a Protestant. She grew up in Bound Brookmarker, New Jerseymarker (in a neighborhood now part of Middlesexmarker), but graduated from Plainfield High Schoolmarker. Her father was a naturalist, engineer and inventor. His work improved the four-color printing process that is used for books and magazines. Her mother, Minnie Bourke, was a "resourceful homemaker." Margaret learned perfection from her father; from her mother, she learned the unabashed desire for self-improvement." Margaret's success was not a family fluke. Her older sister, Ruth White, was well known for her work at the American Bar Association in Chicago, Ill., and her younger brother Roger Bourke White became a prominent Cleveland businessman and high-tech industry founder.

In 1922, she began studying herpetology at Columbia University, where she developed an interest in photography after studying under Clarence White (no relation). In 1925, she married Everett Chapman, but the couple divorced two years later. After switching colleges several times (University of Michiganmarker, where she became a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority; Purdue Universitymarker in Indianamarker, and Western Reserve Universitymarker in Clevelandmarker, Ohiomarker), Bourke-White enrolled at Cornell Universitymarker, lived in Risley Hallmarker, and graduated in 1927. A year later, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she started a commercial photography studio and did architectural and industrial photography. One of her clients was Otis Steel Company.

Bourke-White's success was due to both her people skills and her technical skills. Her experience at Otis is a good example. As she explains in Portrait of Myself, the Otis security people were reluctant to let her shoot for many reasons: First, steel making was a defense industry, so they wanted to be sure national security was not affected. Second, she was a woman and in those days people wondered if a woman and her delicate cameras could stand up to the intense heat, hazard, and generally dirty and gritty conditions inside a steel mill. When she got permission, the technical problems began. Black and white film in that era was sensitive to blue light, not the reds and oranges of hot steel—she could see the beauty, but the pictures were coming out all black. She solved this problem by bringing along a new style of magnesium flare (which produces white light) and having assistants hold them to light her scenes. Her ability to work well with both people and technology resulted in some of the best steel factory pictures of that era, and these pictures earned her national attention.

Photojournalism

In 1929, she accepted a job as associate editor of Fortune magazine. In 1930, she became the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Unionmarker. She was hired by Henry Luce as the first female photojournalist for Life magazine.

Her photographs[56265] of the construction of the Fort Peck Dammarker were featured in Life's first issue, dated November 23, 1936, including the cover. This cover photograph became such an iconic (see [56266]) image that it was featured as the 1930s representative to the United States Postal Service's Celebrate the Century series of commemorative postage stamps. "Although Bourke-White titled the photo, 'New Deal, Montanamarker: Fort Peck Dammarker,' it is actually a photo of the spillway located three miles east of the dam," according to a United States Army Corps of Engineers Web page.

During the mid-1930s, Bourke-White, like Dorothea Lange, photographed drought victims of the Dust Bowl. Bourke-White and novelist Erskine Caldwell were married from 1939 to 1942, and together they collaborated on You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), a book about conditions in the South during the Great Depression.

She also traveled to Europe to record how Germanymarker, Austriamarker and Czechoslovakiamarker were faring under Nazism and how Russia was faring under Communism. While in Russiamarker, she photographed a rare "smiling Stalin" while in Moscow, and Stalin's grandmother when visiting Georgiamarker.

World War II

Bourke-White was the first female war correspondent and the first woman to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War II. In 1941, she traveled to the Soviet Unionmarker just as Germanymarker broke its pact of non-aggression. She was the only foreign photographer in Moscowmarker when German forces invaded. Taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy, she then captured the ensuing firestorms on camera.

As the war progressed, she was attached to the U.S. army air force in North Africa, then to the U.S. Army in Italymarker and later Germany. She repeatedly came under fire in Italy in areas of fierce fighting.

"The woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterraneanmarker, 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. In this period, she arrived at Buchenwaldmarker, the notorious concentration camp. She is quoted as saying, "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 entitled Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly, a project that helped her come to grips with the brutality she had witnessed during and after the war.

"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."

She had a knack for being at the right place at the right time: She interviewed and photographed Mohandas K. Gandhi just few hours before his assassination. Eisenstaedt, her friend and colleague, said one of her strengths was that there was no assignment and no picture that was unimportant to her. She also started the first photo lab at Life.

Recording the India-Pakistan partition violence

Bourke-White is known equally well in both Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker for her photographs of Gandhi at his spinning wheel and Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, upright in a chair.

The photojournalist also was "one of the most effective chroniclers" of the violence that erupted at the independence and partition of Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker, according to Somini Sengupta, the writer of an arts section of the New York Times. Sengupta called Bourke-White's photographs of the episode "gut-wrenching, and staring at them, you glimpse the photographer's undaunted desire to stare down horror." The photographer recorded streets littered with corpses, dead victims with open eyes, and refugees with vacant eyes. "Bourke-White's photographs seem to scream on the page," Sengupta wrote. The pictures were taken just two years after Bourke-White photographed the newly captured Buchenwaldmarker.

Sixty-six of Bourke-White's photographs of the partition violence were included in a 2006 reissue of Khushwant Singh's 1956 novel about the disruption, Train to Pakistan. In connection with the reissue, many of the photographs in the book were displayed at "the posh shopping center Khan Market" in Delhimarker, India. "More astonishing than the images blown up large as life was the number of shoppers who seemed not to register them," Sengupta wrote. No memorial to the partition victims exists in India, according to Pramod Kapoor, head of Roli, the Indian publishing house coming out with the new book.

Later years

She wrote her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, which was published in 1963 and became a best seller, but she grew increasingly infirm and increasingly became more isolated in her home in Darien, Connecticutmarker. Her living room there "was wallpapered in one huge, floor-to-ceiling, perfectly-stitched-together black-and-white photograph of an evergreen forest that she had shot in Czechoslovakia in 1938." A pension plan set up in the 1950s "though generous for that time" no longer covered her health-care costs. She also suffered financially from her personal generosity and "less-than-responsible attendant care."

She died in Connecticutmarker, aged 67.Due to Parkisons disease.

Museums and movie houses

Her photographs are in the Brooklyn Museummarker, the Cleveland Museum of Artmarker and the Museum of Modern Artmarker in New York as well as in the collection of the Library of Congressmarker.

Bourke-White was portrayed by Farrah Fawcett in the television movie, Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White and by Candice Bergen in the 1982 film Gandhi.

Many of Bourke-White's manuscripts, memorabilia, photographs, and negatives are housed in Syracuse Universitymarker's Bird Library Special Collections section.

Description of accomplishments

Margaret Bourke-White is a woman of many firsts. She was a forerunner in the newly emerging field of photojournalism, and was the first female to be hired as such. She was the first photographer for Fortune magazine, in 1929. In 1930, she was the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union.

Henry Luce hired her as the first female photojournalist for Life magazine, soon after its creation in 1935, and one of her photographs adorned its first cover (November 23, 1936). She was the first female war correspondent and the first to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War II, and one of the first photographers to enter and document a concentration camp. She made history with the publication of her haunting photos of the Depression in the book You Have Seen Their Faces, a collaboration with husband-to-be Erskine Caldwell. She wrote six books about her international travels. She was the premiere female industrial photographer, getting her start in Clevelandmarker, Ohiomarker, at the Otis Steel Company around 1927.

Some books by Margaret Bourke-White

  • You Have Seen Their Faces (1937; with Erskine Caldwell) ISBN 0-8203-1692-X
  • North of the Danube (1939; with Erskine Caldwell) ISBN 0-306-70877-9
  • Shooting the Russian War (1942)
  • They Called it "Purple Heart Valley" (1944)
  • Halfway to Freedom; a report on the new India (1949)
  • Interview with India,(1950)
  • Portrait of Myself (1963) ISBN 0-671-59434-6
  • Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly (1946)
  • The Taste of War (selections from her writings edited by Jonathon Silverman) ISBN 0-7126-1030-8
  • Say, Is This the USA? (Republished 1977) ISBN 0-306-77434-8
  • The Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White ISBN 0-517-16603-8


Biographies and collections of Margaret Bourke-White Photographs

  • Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 ISBN 0-8478-2505-1
  • Margaret Bourke White ISBN 0-8109-4381-6
  • Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer ISBN 0-8212-2490-5
  • Margaret Bourke-White: Adventurous Photographer ISBN 0-531-12405-3
  • Power and Paper, Margaret Bourke-White: Modernity and the Documentary Mode ISBN 1-881450-09-0
  • Margaret Bourke White: A Biography by Vickie Goldberg (Harper & Row: 1986) ISBN 0-06-015513-2
  • Margaret Bourke-White: Twenty Parachutes, Nazraeli Press, 2002 ISBN 1590050134
  • For The World To See: The Life of Margaret Bourke-White by Jonathan Silverman ISBN 0-670-32356-X


References

External links



1989 TV movie
  • (aka Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White)



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