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Margaret Bourke-White

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 time.

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.


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