Did you know that the first issue of Life magazine had a cover photo by Margaret Bourke-White? Not that you would know, because photographers didn’t get a by-line back then. Also, the fact that she was the first female photojournalist for Life magazine is huge, considering it was November 1936.
Bourke-White was also the first female war correspondent, heading to Germany in 1941. Hanging out of planes to snap pictures of bomb ravaged areas and accompanying the soldiers into Bunchenwald Concentration Camp in 1945 was just part of her job. I know if you have ever studied World War II, you would have seen Margaret’s photos of the corpses they found in Bunchenwald in the text books. I remember some of them, and they still make me ill.
This woman was a trail blazer; she loved taking pictures from atop the gargoyles on the 61st floor of the Chrysler building in New York City. She found a way to take pictures of the Otis Steel Company in the early 1920s, which was a feat in of itself. Film at the time was far different, sensitive to blue light, and with the ladles of bright orange and red molten steel, the image would show up as black on the photos. Using flares, she took some of the most iconic photos of industry in the American industrial era.
Margaret had seen the atrocities of war and hardship, and took photographic evidence of the beauty in her lifetime. She went places women had never been before, worked her way to respect and high acclaim. But all the skill in the world couldn’t save her from her last and longest struggle. In 1953 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She fought hard, having to revolutionary brain surgeries to try and get her body and mind to work together. claimed her life 18 years later.
Now I know this documentary is over an hour long (and there is a section of audio missing), but I do urge you to take a look. It isn’t stuffy and Margaret is… pardon the pun, rivetingly portrayed by Sally Matson.
As an aside, if you’re a B&W film buff, there’s an old film about a female photographer trying to make it in New York on youtube. Again, it runs for just over an hour… link to Double Exposure from 1944