Bourke-White, Magaret (1904–1971) By Slipp, Naomi
Margaret Bourke-White was an influential American photojournalist associated with Life Magazine. Bourke-White briefly studied at Columbia University under Photo-Secessionist Clarence White (1871–1925) before graduating from Cornell University in 1927. Opening a photography studio in Cleveland, Ohio, she specialized in industrial and commercial images that appealed to emerging modernist tastes. Widely published and highly lauded, Bourke-White achieved many firsts, including being the first woman to photograph combat zones. Her career transformed the male-dominated field of photojournalism.
In 1927 Bourke-White photographed the dark interior of the Cleveland-based Otis Steel Company utilizing magnesium flares to capture the industrial processes. The following year, Bourke-White documented the construction of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. Both sets of photographs emphasize American industry and combine formal drama with tonal variation, aligning Bourke-White with the “machine aesthetic” of modernist art. From 1929–1935, Bourke-White photographed for Henry Luce’s Fortune magazine. For her first assignment, she took compelling images of the Swift hog processing plant. This was followed by three trips abroad to document culture and industry in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Her 1931 photo-essay in Fortune was the first on life in the USSR in a Western publication.