Photographic Masters: Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White Photographing from the Upper Reaches of New York's Chrysler Building

Margaret Bourke-White Photographing from the Upper Reaches of New York's Chrysler Building

If you were to create a list of the greatest photographers that ever lived, you would have to include Margaret Bourke-White (1904-71). In many ways she defined the style that would fill the pages of many picture magazines. Not surprisingly this is because she shot the feature article for the first issue of the venerable Life magazine. Her coverage of the Peck Dam arguable defined the template the magazine would follow as well as almost every pictorial magazine thereafter. National Geographic, Time, and other news magazine photographers owe their stylistic roots to Ms. Bourke-White.

So how did this come about you might ask. Well before shooting for the first issue of Life magazine, Ms. Bourke-White had made a name for herself shooting industrial style photography for her client Otis Steel Company. In this job she began using unique lighting techniques with phosphorous that resulted in possibly the best industrial photography of the day. This caught the attention of Life magazines first editors and she was hired to cover the construction of the Peck Dam in Montana. While she was expected to capture the industrialized imagery that had made her name, and she did, she also took it upon herself to cover the personal drama of the residents of the community that was supporting the construction. Her poignant and human interest images ended up being used in the article and defined the mold that Life would follow for the next 60+ years.

She also made a name for herself by covering the personal life of Gandhi and the events surrounding the Pakistan India partitioning. In fact if you watch the award winning film Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley, the role played by Candice Bergen is Margaret Bourke-White. Her images of Gandhi are how we remember the man, and the humanity she captured is testament to her ability to capture the soul of her subjects. This movie should be mandatory watching for any photographer.

The following is a small sample of her amazing work, and I encourage all readers to do more research to discover what an amazing photojournalist she was.


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One Comment

  1. Silvio / Berlin April 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    You are right, she really captured the soul in her images. She also had a great eye for composition, obviously.

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