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Margaret Bourke-White

Text from John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

"Margaret Bourke White was one of the most famous and most successful photographers of her time. Her combination of intelligence, talent, ambition, and flexibility made her an ideal contributor to the new group journalism that developed during the thirties. Bourke White was already noted as a photographer of industrial subjects when she joined the staff of Fortune magazine in 1929 at the age of twenty five. When Life magazine began publication in 1936, she escaped her industrial specialty and became a distinguished member of that select, glamorous, peripatetic group of photographers who witnessed almost everything (in passing), and photographed it for an audience of millions. During her career at Life she photographed both Joseph Stalin and Mohandas Gandhi, and a good sampling of what lay between.

"Bourke White had an excellent sense of simple, poster like design, and a sophisticated photographic technique, both perhaps the legacy of her apprenticeship in the demanding field of industrial reportage. She was excited by the new opportunities presented by photoflash bulbs, which made possible clear and highly detailed pictures under circumstances that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible for photography. The use of two or three bulbs, synchronized to flash together as the shutter was released, could produce a reasonable simulation of normal interior light. Bourke White became very skillful at this technique, which required especially delicate calculation when the level of the interior flash had to be balanced against the level of natural light visible through a room's windows. According to the accepted formula the outside landscape should be about twice as bright as the interior; otherwise the images seen through the windows would look like pictures on the wall."


 


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