Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Mieography

Margaret Bourke-White was born in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish man, and his his Irish-English Protestant wife. The year was 1904, so that was pretty bold in and of itself.

She grew up in New Jersey, where her father worked as a naturalist, engineer, and inventor. His work improved the printing process that is used in books and magazines to this day. Her mother has been styled as a "resourceful homemaker". Margaret has two, very successful siblings, a sister and brother.
     In 1922 she chose to study herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles) at Columbia University. She developed an interest in photography while there, and got married. Her marriage failed in less than two years.
     She switched colleges many times, ending up, finally, at Cornell University, and graduating. After that, she moved to Cleveland of all places, where she started a commercial photography studio, and focused on architectural and industrial photography. One of her clients was the Otis Steel Company.
     Related to her her people skills, as well as her technical skills, Margaret was a vast success. She had much difficulty with the Otis Steel company, because she was a woman, and because of the delicacy of the camera's of that time, and the frailty of film. She brought along a new styled magnesium flare to fix her lighting problems, and ended up with some of the best steel factory pictures taken in that era, and national attention.
     In 1929, Margaret accepted a job as an associate editor at Fortune Magazine. In 1930 she was the the first Western Photographer allowed into the then Soviet Union. Soon after that, she was hired as the first female photojournalist for Life Magazine. Her first cover on life, a photo of the construction of the Fort Peck Dam was such an iconic classic that it was eventually made into a commemorative postage stamp. She remarried, a novelist named Erskine Caldwell, and they collaborated on a book about conditions in the South during the Depression. She also traveled to Europe extensively, and photographed, among other things a rare picture of Stalin smiling, and a picture of Stalin's grandmother....
     When World War II came about, She became the first female war correspondent, and the first woman to be allowed to work in a combat zone. She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when the German forces invaded. She took refuge in the U.S. embassy, and then captured the firestorms on camera.
     As the war furthered, she was attached to an Army-Air Force base in North Africa, then progressed into Italy, and later, Germany. She was frequently under fire in areas of fierce fighting. Life magazine called her "Maggie the Indestructible". She was actually on a ship in the Mediterranean, the SS Strathallan, that was torpedoed and sank. During this, she took pictures, for Life, in an article called "Women in Lifeboats". She also was in a chopper crash, and stranded on an Arctic Island.
     Spring, 1945 found Margaret traveling through a collapsing Germany with General Patton. Including Buchenwald, the notorious concentration camp. She has been 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 called Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly". This book helped her come to grips with the brutality she saw during war time.
     Margaret was also a very lucky photographer. She interviewed, and photographed Ghandi at his spinning wheel mere hours before he died.  She also traveled to Pakistan, and took pictures of it's founder. She was there to chronicle the independence  and partition of India and Pakistan.
     Margaret never stopped. She was also on hand for the Korean war. She spent her time in South Korea, watching and documenting a behind the lines  as guerrilla warfare escalated.
     When Margaret turned 50, she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Her career finally slowed. She had brain surgery, twice. She took the time to write her autobiography, which was a best seller. As time went by, she became more isolated in her home, in Darien, Connecticut. Her living room was wall-papered in a huge, floor to ceiling black and white photograph of an evergreen forest she had taken in Czechoslovakia.  She had a pension plan, but sadly, it did not cover her health care costs. She lost most of her money. It is also reported that she suffered financially from her personal generosity and the "less than responsible" attendant care. She died, in Connecticut, at age 67.
     Her photographs live on, however, in multiple museums, and in the Library of Congress. In a sad, kind of bizarre twist (to me, anyhow), when a film was made of her life, Farrah Fawcett was cast as Margaret. (That doesn't work for me, I highly doubt that "indestructible Maggie" ever flipped her hair and posed in a swim suit).
Go HERE, and you can see many of Margaret's amazing photo's.
Go HERE if you want to see some of the Buchenwald pictures. Fair warning. They will break your heart. They did mine. (but not all the pictures are hers).


Bubblewench said...

She is truly amazing. I have seen her photos before. Great one!

sybil law said...

What a remarkable lady!
And ew on the Farrah Fawcett!

Daryl said...

Amazing woman and photographer .. eons ago back in the time of small BW TV sets Playhouse 90 or Climax which aired 1 hr dramas did a special about her focusing on her Parkinson's and the operation they perfected which gave her some relief, I remember so well .. I wonder if it was ever put on tape .. of course now I must go find it... whoever played her was NOT anything like Farrah...

Anonymous said...

Very interesting life.

Thanks for sharing.

Eaton Bennett said...

What an amazing woman, I'm so glad I stopped by and found this piece. Now I'm going to look at her photos. Thanks for sharing this. :)

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.