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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Margaret Bourke-White

Born: Margaret White 
Dates:  1904, 14 June - 1971, 27 August
Born:  US, NY, New York
Died:  US, CT, Stamford
Active:  US / USSR / Germany
Studied at the Clarence H. White School of Photography. American photographer noted for her industrial shots, often for the magazine ‘Fortune‘ and her work in Germany and Soviet Union in the 1930s. Later she photographed the social impact of the American dustbowl and parts of this work was published in her 1937 book ‘You Have Seen Their Faces‘ (New York) in which she collaborated with the writer, and her husband, Erskine Caldwell. She photographed for Fortune (1930-1936) and she was the first female photographer for LIFE magazine and worked with them extensively from from 1936 onwards. She also took the photograph of the Fort Peck Dam that was used on the front cover of the first issue of Life on 23 November 1936.
She covered major events including campaigns during the Second World War in Africa, Germany, Italy and Russia; the partition of India and Korea's guerilla war.
The Margaret Bourke-White Papers are archived at Syracuse University Library.

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Studied photography with Clarence White. First staff photographer for Fortune (1929), specializing in factories and machines. One of the original four staff photographers for LIFE (1933), where she produced the cover for its first 1936 issue, the Fort Peck Dam, Montana. Her photographs were included in Erskine Caldwell’s You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), a gritty document of the Depression in the South. First official World War II woman military photographer, providing coverage from the German attack into Russia (1941) to the liberation of Buchenwald (1945). Continued working for LIFE into the 1950s, documenting the world from India during and after Gandhi to the mines of South Africa. 
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Oscar Graubner
Margaret Bourke-White on the Chrysler Building 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Exhibitions on this website

Theme: Documentary
ThumbnailDocumentary: 20th Century Margaret Bourke-White and the Otis Steel Company (1928-1929) 
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Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Margaret Bourke-White
American, 1904-1971

Margaret Bourke-White was born in New York City in 1904. She studied at the Clarence White School of Photography at Columbia University and was a student at several other universities before graduating from Cornell in 1927. From there she worked as a freelance industrial and architectural photographer in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1929 she became the first staff photographer for Fortune magazine and in 1936 her cover photo and photographic essay on Fort Peck Dam were in the first issue of LIFE magazine. Assignments for these two magazines took Bourke-White all around the world and her association with LIFE magazine made her the first official woman photographer for the U.S. armed forces. She covered such world events as World War II action in Europe including images of Nazi concentration camp victims and survivors, India during Gandhi's struggle for independence, the Korean War and the social unrest in South Africa. She wrote a number of books regarding her assignments and illustrated them with her photographs, among them is one she collaborated on with her future husband, Erskine Caldwell, entitled You Have Seen Their Faces which documented the difficult times in the South during the Great Depression. In 1957 she went into semi-retirement due to illness and 2 years later she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which she later died from in 1971.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Internet resources

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Margaret Bourke-White ... 
Getty images: Masters gallery 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.182 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.73-75 
• Fernandez, Horacio (ed.) 2000 Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 (Aldeasa) p.62-63 [This Spanish exhibition catalogue is one of the best sources for illustrations of photomontage and book design for the period between the two World Wars.] 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.209 [Includes a well written short biography on Margaret Bourke-White with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Margaret Bourke-White.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.90-91 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.242 
• Lahs-Gonzales, Olivia & Lippard, Lucy 1997 Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century. Selections from the Helen Kornblum Collection (Saint Louis Art Museum, D.A.P.) [Margaret Bourke-White is included in this overview of women photographers.] 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.181 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Margaret Bourke-White are included in this classic history.] 
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.208, Plate 48 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Margaret Bourke-White this is a useful starting point.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.126 [Analyzes a single photograph by Margaret Bourke-White.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Margaret Bourke-White was represented in 61 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
Approximate number of records: ? 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
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The wit and wisdom.

"If anyone gets in my way when I‘m making a picture, I become irrational. I‘m never sure what I am going to do, or sometimes even aware of what I do— only that I want that picture."
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