Margaret Bourke-White is known as the first female
combat-zone photographer. She was also the primary foreign photographer
of any gender to be allowed into the Soviet Union, where she
photographed its manufacturing and other industries.
Photographer Margaret Bourke-White
Margaret White was born on June 14, 1904 in Bronx,
New York. She was raised in Bound Brook, New Jersey by her Jewish
father, Joseph White, who emigrated from Poland, and her mother
Minnie Bourke, whose family was Irish-Catholic.
After graduating high school, she attended Columbia
University where she pursued herpetology, but turned to photography
after only one semester into her schooling, which was soon after
her father died. Bourke-White (she hyphenated her father's last
name with her mother's maiden name after her divorce from Everett
Chapman) transferred from college to college, ultimately graduating
from Cornell University where she received her degree in 1927.
During her college years, Bourke-White met and
later married Everett Chapman in 1924. The marriage ended two
years later. Her second marriage was to novelist Erskine Caldwell
in 1939. That marriage ended three years later in 1942.
Bourke-White began her commercial photography
career when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Her career success
is often attributed to her people skills, in addition to her
photographic technique. The Otis Steel Company became one of
her earliest clients after she set up her studio in Ohio.
Later in her life, Bourke-White revealed in an
interview that she faced various challenges taking images at
the factory because the steel industry, which produced materials
and machinery for the Department of Defense, was regarded as
matter of national security.
Bourke-White began her photojournalism career
when Fortune magazine hired her as a photographer and associate
editor in 1929. A year later, she made the pioneer effort of
photographing the Soviet industry, the first foreign journalist,
and the first female, to be given the opportunity.
In 1935, Henry Luce hired Bourke-White as a photojournalist
for Life magazine, the first female staff photographer for that
magazine. She stayed with the magazine until 1940. She had an
on-and-off again relationship with the magazine until she finally
retired from photography in 1969. Bourke-White's most known
picture taken for Life magazine was of Fort Peck Dam, and which
was featured on the cover of its November 23, 1936 edition,
the first issue of that magazine.
Bourke-White's international career involved documenting
Nazism in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and Communism
in Russia. In Russia, she captured Joseph Stalin smiling, a
rare thing for the late Russian dictator to do in public. She
also took pictures of Stalin's mother and other members of his
family when she visited Georgia, Russia.
Margaret Bourke-White also visited African
mines and uncovered racial discrimination.
Bourke-White's most remarkable impact from her work, however,
came during the Second World War. She was in Moscow when the
German Nazi warplanes started dropping missiles on the city
in 1941. She was the only foreign photographer there at the
Taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy, Bourke-White
captured some of the first images of start of the war. She was
later embedded with the U.S. Army in Africa, Italy and then
Germany, photographing the combat zone, making her the first
woman to be allowed to do so. She also photographed the turmoil
that took place between India and Pakistan in the mid-1940s.
Bourke-White's works are displayed at the Brooklyn
Museum, New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress
and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
In 1953, Margaret experienced the first symptoms
of Parkinson's disease. At the age of 67 years, she died at
the Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut in 1971.
The Rumor Mill
The rumor mill has never stopped in regard to
Margaret Bourke-White as it was once said that she liked to
date men with vestigial tails then teach them to wag on command.