Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936

Overview

Margaret Bourke-White is best known as the first staff photographer of Fortune magazine, the first female war correspondent, and the woman whose photographs made the covers of Life magazine famous. But before she began traveling throughout the world to document history in the making, Bourke-White was creating evocative abstract photographs of American industry and architecture. Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 examines ...
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Overview

Margaret Bourke-White is best known as the first staff photographer of Fortune magazine, the first female war correspondent, and the woman whose photographs made the covers of Life magazine famous. But before she began traveling throughout the world to document history in the making, Bourke-White was creating evocative abstract photographs of American industry and architecture. Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 examines for the first time the works produced during this preeminent photographer's critical early years.

It was in a photography class as a freshman at Columbia University that Bourke-White was first exposed to the work of Arthur Wesley Dow and the abstract style that quickly came to characterize her own work. Upon moving to Cleveland in 1927, Bourke-White began creating abstract photographs of the city's industrial architecture, an unusual subject for a female photographer at that time. The world of machines and technology was a familiar one for Bourke-White, however, whose father was an engineer and inventor. And the monumental forms, geometric shapes, and cold steel of industrial plants and their machines lent themselves perfectly to the abstract style Bourke-White had already developed in her work.

The resulting sparse, yet powerful compositions of American industry rivaled the similarly-themed paintings of Precisionist artists Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, and quickly pushed Bourke-White's work to the forefront of American abstraction. It was on the basis of these early photographs, icons of American strength and steadfastness in uncertain times, that Henry Luce offered Bourke-White a job shooting images forthe pages of Fortune. When he launched Life magazine in 1936, Bourke-White's photograph of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana graced the first cover.

Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 is a groundbreaking volume, an exploration of the first decade of the career of a remarkable photographer. An essay by Stephen Bennett Phillips chronicles these years and interprets the work produced, much of which has never before been published. This book is the companion to the nationwide traveling exhibition of the same name, organized by The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Many of Bourke-White's photographs are 20th-century icons of "progress," yet it is still startling to see some of the most famous together: the image of a gargoyle on the Chrysler Building; the silver plane flying over downtown Manhattan; Montana's Fort Peck Dam, as part of her series on the New Deal. This catalogue and concurrent exhibit at the Phillips Collection in Washington displays only Bourke-White's early, technology-based work, before she was a featured photographer for Fortune and Time magazines. Industrial cables and aluminum rods are still in all their modernist glory, while workers on the Campbell Soup production line and those in Soviet factories show the muscle behind its mammoth forms. Phillips, curator at the Phillips Collection, contextualizes Bourke-White's work within the culture between the wars, when industry fell into the Depression and women were still early additions to parts of the workforce. With a chronology, selected correspondence and two radio transcripts of Bourke-White speaking ("I never run any risks-even if I do get into tight places that sound dangerous," she said on WNEW in 1935), along with newly published photographs and new research on the images, this catalogue gives nuance to a photographer whose work has become difficult to see behind the myths it helped create. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A star in a niche of her own making where camera, industry, and corporate America merged, Margaret Bourke-White (1904-71) was a celebrity who showed daring on scaffolding while shooting the Chrysler Building, turned the mindless rhythm of an assembly line into a photograph about repetitive shapes, and celebrated the form of automobile fenders. With this book, we are successfully reminded of her grand talent. For a traveling exhibition of the same name, which debuted this May at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, curator Phillips has gathered seldom-seen photographs from the beginning of Margaret Bourke-White's career, photographs that set the stage for her best-known work in Fortune and Life. Bourke-White used a camera to capture the pure, modernist, geometric forms that were part of the industrial environment. For her, brushed aluminum propellers were as much a reflective sculpture as they were airplane parts; smokestacks, oil tanks, and even stacked limestone slabs appear to be the work of artists building on a heavy-duty scale. With a chronology of her career and some never-before-published photographs, this catalog is recommended for photography collections, especially those already owning monographs such as Sean Callahan's Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer.-David Bryant, New Canaan Lib., CT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847825059
  • Publisher: Rizzoli
  • Publication date: 2/5/2003
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 9.84 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Bennet Phillips is Associate Curator at the Phillips Collection in Washington,

D. C. and is the organizing curator of Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design,

1927-1936.

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