Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White was born on June 14th, 1904, in the Bronx, New York. Her
father, Joseph White, was an inventor and engineer, and her mother, Minnie Bourke, was
forward thinking woman, especially for the early 1900's. When Margaret was very young, the
family moved to a rural suburb in New Jersey, so that Joseph could be closer to his job.
Margaret, along with her sister Ruth, were taught from an early age by their mother. Her
mother was strict in monitoring their outside influences, limiting everything from fried
foods to funny papers. When Margaret was eight, her father took her inside a foundry to
watch the manufacture of printing presses. While in the foundry, she saw some molten iron
poured. This event filled Margaret with joy, and this memory would be burned in her mind for
years to come. Joseph White's chief recreation activity suited his scientific mind; her was
an amateur photographer. The White's home was filled with his photographs. If something
interested Margaret's father, it also interested her. She pretended as a girl to take
photographs with an empty cigar box. Although she claimed that she never took a photograph
until after her father's death. Her cousin Florence remembers her helping her father to
develop prints in his bathtub. In 1917, her father suffered a stroke. By 1919, he had
recovered enough for the family to take a trip to Niagara Falls and Canada. While there, she
began to make notes on his photographs, and helped him set up shots on several occasions.
In 1921, she began college at Rutgers, then moved to the University of Michigan, then
Cornell University, from which she graduated in 1927. As a freshman at Michigan, she began
taking pictures for the yearbook, and within a year was offered the seat of photography
editor. Instead of taking the position, she married a engineering graduate student, Everett
Chapman, and abandoned photography to pursue married life. When the marriage fell apart two
years later, she moved to Cornell, where she again took up photography. After she graduated
in 1927, she moved to Cleveland, where her family was living, to start her career with a
portfolio full of architecture pictures she had taken while at Cornell. She called upon
several architects who were Cornell alumni for jobs. After the success of her first job, she
founded the Bourke-White studio in her one room apartment. Then, money she made from
shooting elegant home and gardens by day was spent on photographing steel mills at night and
on the weekends. The circulation of her portfolio brought her to the attention of
Cleveland's biggest industrial tycoons. After a few failures, she was successful at
capturing the Otis Steel mill. From this, she made enough money to move her studio to the
Terminal Tower skyscraper. In the spring of 1929, she received a telegram from Henry R.
Luce, a publisher who was planning a new weekly magazine called Time. Luce invited her to
come to New York so they could meet, and so Bourke-White could see what Time was to
accomplish. She was unimpressed, but Luce and his editor Parker Lloyd- Smith were also
planning a new business magazine that would make use of dramatic industrial photographs.
This was perfect for Bourke-White. She accepted their offer as a staff photographer. In July
1929, the decision was made to publish the magazine, called Fortune. Bourke-White began
working on stories for the premier issue, eight months away. The first lead story was to
feature Swift & Co., a hog processing plant. She worked with Lloyd-Smith until he became too
sick from the stench to continue. After Bourke-White was finished photographing the hogs,
she left most of her camera equipment to be burned. Her documentation of this was a step in
the development of the photo essay, and Bourke-White's style.
In 1930, Russia was in the midst of an industrial and cultural revolution. It's doors
all but closed to westerners, especially photographers. Bourke-White was attracted to
Russia, but her editors at Fortune doubted that she would gain access. They instead sent her
to Germany to photograph the emerging industry there. She decided that she would go on her
own, and after six weeks of waiting, her visa cleared the Soviet