Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) was a celebrated figure in her time, who broke new ground as a female photojournalist. In 1936, Bourke-White became one of the founders of LIFE magazine, and contributed its first cover image.
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Construction Yard of the Bethlehem Ship Building Corporation, Sparrows Point, Maryland, USA, 1937
Hats in the Garment District, New York, 1930
Margaret Bourke-White was born in New York on 14 June 1904, into a middle class family, and was home-schooled by her mother. Her father was an engineer and inventor.
Bourke-White began to take photographs to earn money when a student at Cornell University and, by 1928, developed a particular eye for architectural and industrial photography. In 1930 she was taken on by Fortune magazine, and despatched to the Soviet Union to photograph its industrial installations. Soon she was their principal photographer, and her career took off quickly. She became particularly well-known as the plucky girl, in her mid-twenties who, in 1930, scaled the heights of the Chrysler Building during its construction for an apparently death-defying shoot. These became some of the most memorable images of New York ever taken.
In 1936, Bourke-White became one of the founders of LIFE magazine, and contributed its first cover image – an artfully composed shot of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana – as well as the written article that accompanied it. This was the first of many assignments for the magazine.
During the Second World War, Bourke-White set new ground as a war photographer, becoming the first female photojournalist both to be allowed in combat zones and to fly in a combat mission. At the war’s close, she took shocking images of the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp that reverberated around the world’s press.
Margaret Bourke-White died in Darien, Connecticut on 27 August 1971 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.