Women’s History Month: Hildegard Rosenthal

Photography, South America

NOTE: As March is Women’s History Month here in the United States, I thought I’d acknowledge this by highlighting a few female photographers from the past throughout the month.

Hildegard Rosenthal (1913 – 1990)

Hildegard Rosenthal arrived in Brazil in 1934 as a refugee from the Nazis. Although she was not Jewish herself, she had married a Jew, Walter Rosenthal. She soon found herself moving in important artistic circles and was persuaded to begin photographing her new home. During a span of nine years, 1938–47, Rosenthal took thousands of images of São Paulo before abandoning her undertaking in order to raise a family. Records show that it was not until 1974 that her photography was first shown, at the Universidade de São Paulo. Most commentators of her work have underscored her primary interest in photographing people in public spaces.

Self Portrait, circa 1938

Self Portrait, circa 1938

Hildegard Rosenthal is allegedly the first female to have worked as a photojournalist in Brazil. She was one of a generation of European photographers who immigrated at the time of World War II (1939-1945) and found work in the Brazilian press. One of the best-known images created by Rosenthal is that of the camarão, the tram that carried passengers in and out of the financial and commercial center of São Paulo.

São Paulo, circa 1940

São Paulo, circa 1940

While I’m not aware of any books on Rosenthal (at least not in English), there is a concise biography that can be found at the Itaú Cultural Encyclopaedia of the Visual Arts (where I borrowed some of the information for this post along with the two photos by Rosenthal). In addition, David William Foster’s essay “Downtown in São Paulo with Hildegard Rosenthal’s Camera” can be downloaded as a PDF here.

São Paulo, circa 1940

São Paulo, circa 1940

Women’s History Month: Gerda Taro

Europe, Photography

NOTE: As March is Women’s History Month here in the United States, I thought I’d acknowledge this by highlighting a few female photographers from the past throughout the month.

Gerda Taro (1910 – 1937)

Gerda Taro was the first female photojournalist to die in battle. On July 25, 1937, she was shooting on the front line of the Spanish Civil War alongside her then partner, fellow photographer Ted Allan. The couple hitched a ride on the running board of a passing car, which was then rammed by an out-of-control tank. Taro was thrown on to the ground and died of her injuries in a field hospital a few hours later. She was 26 years old.

Gerda Taro, Paris, 1935

Gerda Taro, Paris, 1935

Among the mourners at Taro’s funeral in Paris was Robert Capa, the greatest war photographer of his time, and Taro’s former lover and soulmate. While Capa’s place in the canon of 20th-century photography was assured even before his death in action in Indochina in 1954, aged 40, it would take 70 years for Taro to emerge from his shadow and be recognised in her own right role as a pioneering photojournalist.

Republican soldiers resting, Spain, circa 1937

Republican soldiers resting, Spain, circa 1937

While there are numerous references to Taro in the many books on Robert Capa, I am only aware of two books that focus on Taro herself: François Maspero’s Out of the Shadows: A Life of Gerda Taro (Souvenir Press, 2010) and Jane Rogoyska’s Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa (Jonathan Cape, 2013).

Workers in a munitions factory, Madrid, June 1937

Workers in a munitions factory, Madrid, June 1937

Women’s History Month: Margaret Bourke-White

Asia, Europe, Photography

NOTE: As March is Women’s History Month here in the United States, I thought I’d acknowledge this by highlighting a few female photographers from the past throughout the month.

Margaret Bourke-White (1904 – 1971)

Margaret Bourke-White was an American photographer and documentary photographer. She is best known as the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures of Soviet industry, the first female war correspondent (and the first woman permitted to work in combat zones) and the first female photographer for Life magazine, where her photograph appeared on the first cover.

Margaret Bourke-White working atop Chrysler Building, New York City, 1934

Margaret Bourke-White working atop Chrysler Building, New York City, 1934

Bourke-White covered World War II for Life and was the first female photographer attached to the U.S. armed forces. While crossing the Atlantic to North Africa her transport ship was torpedoed and sunk, but Bourke-White survived to cover the daily struggle of the Allied infantrymen in the Italian campaign. She then covered the siege of Moscow and, toward the end of the war, she crossed the Rhine River into Germany with General George Patton’s Third Army troops. Her photographs of the emaciated inmates of concentration camps and of the corpses in gas chambers stunned the world.

Buchenwald, 1945

Buchenwald, 1945

After World War II, Bourke-White traveled to India to photograph Mahatma Gandhi and record the mass migration caused by the division of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. During the Korean War she worked as a war correspondent and traveled with South Korean troops. Stricken with Parkinson disease in 1952, Bourke-White continued to photograph and write.

Mahatma Gandhi, 1946

Mahatma Gandhi, 1946

She married twice, once at a young age, then again to writer Erskine Caldwell, whom she collaborated with on several book projects, including You Have Seen Their Faces, documenting the depression. She published her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, in 1963. She retired from Life magazine in 1969.