Very few people get a shot at Fortune and Life but Margaret Bourke-White simply snapped her fingers and got into both. This very attractive and talented photojournalist made her name in the industry through her pictures for Fortune and Life Magazine. Living during the era when journalism was still way ahead of video productions, her photographs told much of a story with a shot from her lens. Margaret Bourke-White was born on June 14, 1904 in the Bronx, New York to Joseph White and Minnie Bourke.
Joseph was of Polish-Jewish background while Minnie had Irish-English blood. (Women in History) Her parents were both believers of a religion called Ethical Culture which was a form of atheism. Ethical culture was very rigid to the point that it only allowed sexual intercourse between married couples for the sole purpose of creating children. (Goldberg 1986 pp. 4-5) In adherence to its philosophies, the couple brought up their children in a mentally stimulating and moral home. (Keller 1996 pp. 8-9) Mr.
White was an engineer who was able to develop many versions of printing presses while his wife was totally dedicated in nurturing their children. Minnie was a very strict mother. She limited the children’s exposure to fried food and funny papers. Joseph, on the other hand, was an amateur photographer who was able to pass on his love for still pictures to his daughter. Margaret’s passion for photography began when as a child of eight years, she went with her father to watch the manufacture of printing presses.
The marvel of seeing molten iron being poured captivated the photographer in her. (Margaret Bourke White par. 1) However, her total absorption into photojournalism was still far behind her mind. She began her college years in 1922 at New York’s Columbia University in a course for herpetology which is the study of reptiles. However, she met Everett Chapman, an engineering graduate student and got married in 1925. The marriage ended in divorce a year later which was also the time she decided to incorporate her mother’s last name into her own.
(Margaret Bourke-White Biography 2007 par. 2) She became the student of Clarence White, a known photography instructor which sparked her interest enough to leave herpetology. She switched courses and schools several times before she finally graduated in 1927 at Cornell University. (Bois 1997) She opened her own photo studio after college at Cleveland wherein she specialized in architectural photos of industrialization. At that time, Cleveland was enjoying industrial progress and she marveled in taking pictures of this era which can be considered as symbols of economic prosperity.
“She romanticized the power of machines through close-ups, dramatic cross lighting and unusual perspectives” that gave people a different view of industrialization. (“The Photography of Design” 2004 par. 5-6) Her pictures got the attention of well-known publisher, Henry Luce. By 1929, he was able to get her to shoot as staff photographer for the first issue of Fortune Magazine. The assignment was a difficult one that had to focus on Swift and Company’s hog processing plant but her perseverance to be the best made her finish the job well.
(Cox 2003) By 1936, Luce introduced the first issue of Life Magazine. The front page photo of Fort Peck Dam that at that time was still under construction was shot by Bourke-White along with her essay inside. Fortune and Life magazines gave her numerous opportunities to see the world for various photo assignments. She was able to capture photos of World War II in Europe including Nazi camps, Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Korean War and the social unrest in South Africa. (Lee Gallery par. 1)