Born in Bronx (New York) on June 14, 1904, she was the daughter of Joseph White and Minnie Bourke. Her father was a naturalist, engineer and inventor; her mother, a resourceful homemaker. She learned from her father perfection; from her mother, the unabashed desire for self-improvement. Married in 1924 to Everett Chapman. Divorced in 1926, she escaped to the security of Cornell University to complete her education and find...and define...herself as the Margaret Bourke-White the world came to know through her pioneering photojournalism.
She first gained recognition as an industrial photographer based in Cleveland, Ohio. Arriving in the Lake Erie city by boat in 1927 she said, "I stood on the deck to watch the city come into view. As the skyline took form in the morning mist, I felt I was coming to my promised land...columns of machinery gaining height as we drew toward the pier, derricks swinging like living creatures. Deep inside I knew these were my subjects." Her pioneering photographs of steel mill interiors came to the attention of Henry Luce. He brought her to New York to work on Fortune, a magazine drenched in the romance of industry.
Then as a photojournalist who emphasized the human side of the news as seen in the pages of LIFE, another Henry Luce production. As a founding mother of LIFE (she shot the first cover ), she became a world-famous symbol of swashbuckling photography. And that she did it in a male world made her success even more spectacular.
During her unique career, Bourke-White was torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed. She was the first Western photographer to document Soviet industry after the revolution, to create a travelog of Czechoslovakia and other Balkan states just before Hitler moved in to ignite World War II, and to be stationed in Moscow just before Germany bombed its former ally.
Aggressive and relentless in pursuit of pictures, Bourke-White had the knack of being at the right place at the right time. For example, she interviewed and photographed Mohandas K. Gandhi a few hours before his assassination in India. And she was the only American photographer in the Soviet Union in 1941 while the battle for Moscow raged. Alfred Eisenstaedt, her friend and colleague, said she was great because there was no assignment, no picture that was unimportant to her. She was also credited for starting the first photo lab at LIFE.
Bourke-White's second marriage was to Erskine Caldwell, the novelist, in 1939. This marriage ended in divorce in 1942. She had no children. Thus LIFE became her family. And when Parkinson's Disease started to sap her strength her associates at LIFE supported her. She said, "The camera is a remarkable instrument. Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand."
Her photographs are in a number of museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is also represented in the collection of the Library of Congress.
Margaret Bourke-White had mastered her medium. But, she also had the daring, cunning, and intuition to be where news was happening.
Margaret Bourke-White is exclusively represented in the Rocky Mountain Region by GALLERY M