Margaret Bourke-White was a pioneering photojournalist whose insightful pictures of 1930s Russia, German industry, and the impact of the Depression and drought in the American midwest established her reputation. She took some of the first photographs inside German concentration camps at Erla and Buchenwald following the end of World War II and captured the last pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, in India.
Bourke-White entered Columbia University in 1921 to study herpetology; however, the following year a photography course taught by Clarence H. White at the Clarence H. White School of Photography left a lasting impression. For the course Bourke-White received her first camera, a secondhand 3 ¼ x 4 ¼ inch ICA Reflex with a cracked lens, taking her first photographs on glass plates. Though she continued to study zoology at the University of Michigan, from then on she never left the darkroom. In 1927 she graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biology, but she spent most of her time establishing herself as a professional photographer. Bourke-White opened her first studio in her apartment in Cleveland, Ohio. With photographs of architecture and industry, she earned commissions and caught the eye of Henry Luce, founder of Time and Fortune magazines, who, in 1929, invited her to become Fortune’s first staff photographer. She returned to New York and, in 1930, established a photographic studio in the Chrysler Building. When Luce launched Life magazine in 1936, Bourke-White joined the staff, and her picture Fort Peck Dam, Montana appeared on the first cover.
Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014
520: Picturing America
Through fall 2020 Collection gallery
The Shape of Things: Photographs from Robert B. Menschel
Oct 29, 2016–May 7, 2017
One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North
Apr 3–Sep 7, 2015
Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection,
Dec 13, 2014–Apr 19, 2015
American Modern: Hopper to O’Keeffe
Aug 17, 2013–Jan 26, 2014
- Margaret Bourke-White has online.
If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).
All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.
If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].