Photojournalism, War Photography, and Margaret Bourke-White
“From photography’s very start in the mid-19th century, its practitioners have been aware of the power of the photograph to narrate, depict, reveal and persuade. And, when the camera image could be effectively combined with the written or recorded word, the power of both could be amplified a thousandfold.” –Roy Flukinger, Research Curator in Photography at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
REPORTING ON THE WARS American war photography began with the Civil War. Capturing the dead and dying on film at that time required a complex series of steps before a light-sensitive glass plate could be inserted the camera. The introduction of portable cameras and roll film enabled photojournalists Thérèse Bonney, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Edward Steichen, David Douglas Duncan, and Larry Burrows to “get close in” at great personal risk to photograph the visceral realities on the battlefield. Newspapers and magazines brought the horrors of war to the breakfast tables and living rooms of America.
FOCUS ON MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE
Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, photojournalist Margaret Bourke- White (1904–1971) was the best-known photographer in America. In 1931, she was the highest paid photographer in the country. In 1936, Time magazine recognized her as one of the nation’s ten most influential women. Her fame and fortune were based exclusively on her success as a commercial photographer and photojournalist. Bourke-White was tenacious and fearless in the pursuit of a story, whether perched precariously on a New York City skyscraper or shooting film from the roof of a Moscow hotel while German bombs rained down from the night sky. She worked for both Fortune and Life magazines; her assignments for these magazines allowed for the mass distribution of her photographs and accompanying articles. Bourke-White’s contract with publisher Henry Luce allowed her to freelance for six months out of the year; she was the first photographer to advertise and endorse non-photographic products. A long struggle with Parkinson’s ended her career in the mid-1960s. By that time, Bourke-White had authored ten books—all of which are in the Logan Collection—and made some of the 20th century’s most iconic and reproduced photographs. They included such indelible images as Gandhi sitting at his spinning wheel; a portrait of a South African diamond miner that dispelled the illusion of white superiority under apartheid in a single frame; and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, the first such images to be published in America.