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.

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