I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell
complete our report about photographer Margaret Bourke-White. She helped create
the modern art of photojournalism.
Bourke-White began her career as an industrial photographer in the early
nineteen thirties. Her pictures captured
the beauty and power of machines. They
told a story – one image at a time. The
technique became know as the photographic essay. In nineteen thirty-six, American publisher
Henry Luce started a new magazine, called Life, based on the photographic
essay. In this magazine, the pictures told the story. Bourke-White had worked as a photographer for
one of Luce's other magazines called Fortune.
Luce chose her to work on his new magazine.
Bourke-White took the picture that appeared on the first cover of Life
magazine. It was a picture of a new dam
being built in the western state of Montana.
The light on the rounded supports showed the dam's great strength. The small shapes of two men at the bottom
showed the dam's huge size. Bourke-White
was no longer satisfied just to show the products of industry in her pictures,
as she had in the past. She wanted to
tell the story of the people behind the industry: In this case, the people who were building
dam in Montana was a federal project. Ten thousand people worked on it. Bourke-White took pictures of those people –
at the dam, in the rooms where they lived, and in the places where they had
fun. With her pictures in Life magazine, she told a story about America's "Wild
West" in the twentieth century.
Bourke-White was a social activist. She
was a member of the American Artists Congress.
These artists supported state financial aid for the arts. They fought discrimination against
African-American artists. And they supported artists fighting against fascism
the nineteen thirties, Bourke-White met the American writer Erskine Caldwell.
Caldwell was known for his stories about people in the American South. The
photographer and the writer decided to produce a book to tell Americans about some
of those poor country people of the South.
They traveled through eight states, from South Carolina to Louisiana.
Their book, "You Have Seen Their Faces," was published in nineteen
thirty-seven. It was a great success.
words were beautiful. But Bourke-White's
pictures could have told the story by themselves. They showed the faces of
people in a land that still wore the mask of defeat in America's Civil War.
nineteen thirty-eight, some countries in Europe were close to war. Bourke-White
and Caldwell went there to report on these events. They produced another book together, this
time about Czechoslovakia. It was called
"North of the Danube." The next year
Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell were married. They continued to work
the spring of nineteen forty-one, Europe had been at war for a year and a half.
Bourke-White and Caldwell went to the Soviet Union. They were the only foreign
reporters there. For six weeks, Bourke-White took pictures of the Soviet people
preparing for war. Then, one night in July, Soviet officials announced that
German bomber planes were flying toward Moscow.
No civilians were permitted to stay above ground because of the coming
As others were hurrying
to safety, Bourke-White placed several cameras in the window of her hotel
room. She set the cameras so they would
remain open to the light of the night sky.
Then she joined the others in rooms under the hotel. While she waited for
the bombing attack to end, her cameras recorded the explosions, which lit up
the rooftops of the city.
leaving the country, Bourke-White received permission to meet with Soviet
leader Joseph Stalin. She returned home with his picture and a series of other
photographic essays for Life magazine.
She also had enough material for a book on the war in the Soviet Union.
Margaret Bourke-White's marriage to Erskine Caldwell ended in divorce in
World War Two, she became an official photographer with the United States
Army. Her photographs were to be used
jointly by the military and by Life magazine. She was the first woman to be
permitted to work in combat areas during World War Two.
flew with American bomber planes in England as they prepared to attack enemy
targets on the European continent. She wanted to fly with the Army to North
Africa, where the allies were fighting German troops in the desert.
the commanding general told her it would be too dangerous. So she sailed for
North Africa instead. Before she reached
the African coast, enemy bombs hit the ship and sank it. An allied warship rescued Bourke-White and
the other survivors and took them to Algeria.
incident did not stop Bourke-White from reporting on the war. She flew in an allied bombing attack on a
German airfield at El Aouina in Tunisia.
She flew over the terrible fighting in the Cassino Valley in Italy. And
she moved along the Rhine River with the United States Third Army, under the
command of General George Patton. At the
end of the war, she was with American troops when they entered and freed
several Nazi death camps. She took
photographs of the prisoners in the Buchenwald death camp in Germany in
Later, she wrote about the war. She said she sometimes pulled an imaginary
cloth across her eyes as she worked. In
the death camps, she said, the cloth was so thick that she did not really know
what she was photographing until she saw the finished pictures. In addition to her stories for Life magazine,
Bourke-White published books on the allied campaign in Italy and on the fall of
the war, Life magazine sent Margaret Bourke-White to India. She stayed for
three years as India prepared for its independence from Britain. She photographed the battles between Muslims
and Hindus. And she met with the leader of India's non-violent campaign for
independence, Mohandas Gandhi. She made
a famous photograph of him called "Gandhi at His Spinning Wheel." She was the last person to photograph Gandhi
before he was murdered in nineteen forty-eight.
After that, Bourke-White traveled to South Africa. Her job was to tell the story of the black
people who worked in the country's gold mines.
To get the pictures she wanted, she followed the workers deep into the
the early nineteen fifties, she went to Korea to photograph the effects of war on
the Korean people. She took a famous photograph of a returning soldier reunited
with his mother in South Korea in nineteen fifty-two. The mother had believed that her son had been
killed several months earlier in the Korean War.
Margaret Bourke-White tried to make her pictures
perfect. Often, she was not satisfied with what she had done. She would look at her pictures and see
something she had failed to do, or something she had not done right. Reaching perfection was not easy. Many things got in the way of her work. She said: "There is only one moment when a
picture is there. And a moment later, it
is gone forever. My memory is full of
those pictures that were lost."
More of Margaret Bourke-White's beautiful pictures were
to be lost, sooner than anyone expected.
In the middle nineteen fifties, she began to suffer from the effects of
Her hands shook so badly that she could not hold a
camera. She wrote a book about her life,
called "Portrait of Myself." And, even
though she was unable to take photographs, she continued to work for Life
magazine until nineteen sixty-nine. She
died in nineteen seventy-one at the age of sixty-seven.
Bourke-White was a woman doing what had been a man's job. Her work took her
around the world, from factories to battlefields. Her life was full of adventure. She was one
of the most important photographers of the twentieth century.
This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Barbara
I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week
for People in America in VOA Special English.