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Research Project: Margaret Bourke-White Essay

Margaret Bourke – White, an American journalist photographer, was born in New York City on June 14, 1904. She was raised in a strict household. During her time in high school she became the yearbook editor and that is when she started showing her writing talent. Raised in a strict household, Bourke-White attended local public schools in Bound Brook, New Jersey, after her family moved there. In high school Bourke-White served as the yearbook editor and showed promise in her writing talents. After High school she kept on moving back and forth from the East to the Midwest, that was the reason why she attended several different universities. After tried out several different fields of studies, she discovered photography and decided to continue her education in this field. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1927.

After her graduation she opened a studio in Cleveland, Ohio. At first she specialized in architectural photography, that was when she started taking pictures of the Otis Steel factory. Her work resulted to be some of the best steel factory pictures of that era, and these earned her national attention, by the publisher Henry Luce in Time magazine. Bourke-White became the associate editor and staff photographer of Fortune magazine, from 1929 till 1935. During that time she became the first western photographer who was allowed to document the Soviet Industry through photographs. That was a trigger to make her think about her work, from taking photographs for advertising, which was very profitable. She changed her perception on photography; she discovered how it is more of a powerful tool used to inform and influence the people, than an artistic medium.

In 1937 she started working on a photo essay with Erskine Caldwell, whom she later on married in 1936, on revealing the social conditions in South America. Together they published a book, ‘You Have Seen Their Faces’ with their work from the photo essay, which became her best-known book. Never the less, this photo essay was one of the reasons why she was hired in Life magazine. During her time in Life magazine she composed her most famous single photograph, while covering the Louisville flood. Being a photographer doesn’t only mean taking photographs, but it’s to live and experience what you as a photographer are trying to show the world.

It could be very dangerous and you will face a lot of obstacles. Bourke-White had no fear, all she cared about is to document and show the world what was happening. She was the first female photographer to document what was happening during the World War 2, and who was allowed to work in the combat zones. She went was in Russia during the time Germany boomed Moscow for the first time, and that was when she decided to become a war correspondent. Of course this made her see horrors, which she could have never dreamt of seeing. At first she kept on going back and forth between the US Army Forces on the front lines of North Africa and Italy. During that time She experienced a torpedo attack on a ship she was taking to North Africa. This did not make her change her mind on covering the war, even after the fire she repeatedly came under in Italy in areas of fierce fighting. Her photos showed emotions and revealed the horrors to the war.

There we two photographs she took during the war that had a great effect on the American population. The first one was a photo she took in Buchenwald camp, which was published in TIME magazine in 1945. Buchenwald camp was a concentration camp, where thousands of Jews were taken hostage and killed. Margaret was able to take a picture of the Jewish corpses that were piled on top of each other. It was a shocking picture that showed the suffering of the Jews and the cruelty of Nazi German. The second picture showed a Nazi mother who is covering both of her children with a white cloth. The story behind this picture is more shocking that what we saw. This mother killed her children after her husband was killed during the war, and then she ended up committing suicide.

After the war was over Bourke White went back to documenting about humanitarian issues, which lead her to India. Two years after the Second World War, partition problems occurred between India and Pakistan that ended to be very violent. She was very keen to record all these horror to show to the world. She took photographs of dead victims with open eyes, streets filled with corpses and refugees with vacant eyes. These pictures touched a lot of people, some of them were displayed at “the posh shopping center Khan Market” in Delhi, India, and sixty-six of them were added in 2006 in a republished book called, ‘Train to Pakistan’. During her time in India, Bourke White took this chance to go photograph and interview Mohandas K. Gandhi.

A lot of people regard her as being very lucky to have taken this interview, because a couple of hours after she left him he was assassinated. Her next destination was South Africa; she spent five month there documenting the unfair social and political treatment of black people and the cruelty of apartheid. After that she decided to fly to South Korea to document the war that was going on during that time. Unfortunately that was her last trip, she discovered that she had the Parkinson’s disease, in 1956. She didn’t give up and fought back. She started working on her autobiography, Portrait of Myself that was published in 1963.

She then died in 1971, due to her illness. Margaret was a strong and determined woman. She didn’t only play a big role in changing the people’s perspectives on the sufferings and problems that were around the world and the reality of things, but also how a woman can do a mans job. This wasn’t something common at that time. She has proved to the world that women can do everything, no matter how hard it is and her work reflected that. She crossed all barriers to make history and became well known around the world.

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