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  History of photography

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History of photography
 
 
 
Margaret Bourke-White
 

Margaret Bourke-White (1904 1971) was an American photographer and photojournalist.
Bourke-White was born in the Bronx, New York, 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 Brook, New Jersey (in a neighborhood now part of Middlesex), but graduated from Plainfield High School. 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 from her father perfection, from her mother, 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 Michigan, where she became a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority; Purdue University in Indiana, and Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio), Bourke-White enrolled at Cornell University, lived in Risley Hall, 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.
Margaret'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. The result of her being able 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.
In 1929, she accepted a job as associate editor of Fortune magazine. In 1930, she became the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union. She was hired by Henry Luce as the first female photojournalist for Life magazine.
Her photographs of the construction of the Fort Peck Dam were featured in Life's first issue, dated November 23, 1936, including the cover. This cover photograph became such an iconic 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, Montana: Fort Peck Dam,' 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 Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were faring under Nazism and how Russia was faring under Communism. While in Russia, she photographed a rare "smiling Stalin" while in Moscow, and Stalin's grandmother when visiting Georgia. 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 Union just as Germany broke its pact of non-aggression. She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow 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 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. In this period, she arrived at Buchenwald, 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.Bourke-White is known equally well in both India and Pakistan 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 India and Pakistan, 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, 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 Buchenwald.

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 Delhi, 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.Margaret also recorded the Korean War. There, rather than spend time at the front, she concentrated on the Chiri Mountain area in the south of Korea. She spent her time there because there was a behind-the-lines guerrilla war being fought in the area, and the human drama of the conflict was more evident.
During the 1950s, Bourke-White was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She had just turned 50 when she had to slow her career to fight off the disease, initially with physical therapy, then with brain surgery in 1959 and 1961.
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, Connecticut. 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 Connecticut, aged 67.
 
 
 

Two Women, Lansdale, Arkansas, 1936


Tractor Factory, Stalingrad
1930


Bread Line during the Louisville flood, Kentucky
1937


Nazi Storm Troopers' training class
1938


Cocktails on Gorky Street, Moscow
1941


Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne
1945


Prisoners at Buchenwald
1945


German civilians made to face their nation's crimes, Buchenwald
1945


Nuremberg
1945


Dr. Kurt Lisso, Leipzig's city treasurer, and his wife and daughter after taking poison
to avoid surrender to U.S. troops, Leipzig
1945


Jawaharlal Nehru, India
1947


Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936


Untitled (RCA Speakers), 1935


Chrysler Building: Tower, 1931


Cleveland Union Terminal, 1930


Strategic Air Command, Carswell Air Force Base, Texas (soldiers with balloon), 1951


Steps, Washington, D.C., 1934


Garden of Mrs. Homer H. Johnson


Garden of Mrs. Homer H. Johnson


Hot Pigs


Ludlum Steel Company


Industrial Scene, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland


Industrial Scene, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland


Industrial Scene, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland

 
 
 

 
 
 
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