Recently, as I was searching my daughter’s copy of the wonderful “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” for that night’s story, I noticed the absence of a “rebel girl” I thought I might see – 20th century photographer Margaret Bourke-White. As this short biographical sketch on the Library’s website states:
“Margaret Bourke-White was a woman of firsts: the first photographer for Fortune, the first Western professional photographer permitted into the Soviet Union, Life magazine’s first female photographer, and the first female war correspondent credentialed to work in combat zones during World War II.”
I’ve included additional excerpts of that short biography that are most relevant to kids below. But this Thursday evening you and the rebels in your life can also hear Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division curator Adam Silvia discuss Margaret Bourke-White in an iconic photo in which she holds her camera atop one of the eagles high up on the Chrysler Building, then the tallest building in the world. Registration is required. The program begins at 7 pm, and the discussion of Bourke-White will take place starting at 7:30 pm EST. At the top of the hour, curator Micah Messenheimer looks at Doris Ulmann‘s striking portrait of Maum Duck, made for a book about formerly-enslaved people in South Carolina’s Gullah community. Ulmann was a groundbreaking photographer, too – as former Library curator Beverly Brannen notes, Ulmann’s work “expanded the vocabulary of photography to include all peoples and gave prominence to people outside the mainstream.”
In addition to learning the stories of the photographs themselves and the photographers behind them, the curators will introduce viewers to how they look at a photograph. It’s part of a series called “Object Lessons,” one of several of opportunities from the Prints and Photographs Division. You can find all of them here.
Register for the webinar here.
This webinar offers a sneak-peek at the Library of Congress’s upcoming exhibition, Not an Ostrich: and Other Images from America’s Library. Originally organized by the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, Not an Ostrich features close to 400 images from the Library’s spectacular holdings of more than 14 million photographs. The exhibition opens to the public on March 23. If these photos inspire you and your family, be sure to see them and more in person at the Library soon! Learn more about visiting the Library here.
More on Margaret Bourke-White:
“When Margaret was eight, she went with her father [Joseph] to watch the manufacture of his printing presses. Seeing molten iron being poured made such an impression on her that during her career she made photographs of heavy industry again and again…Fascinated by optics, Joseph became an avid photographer. Despite his prolonged silences and preoccupation with his work, he took Margaret with him when he went out making pictures. She would follow him, pretending to make photographs with an empty cigar box…It is likely that her fascination with factories dates from work her father did.
…In the summer of 1930, Fortune [magazine] sent Bourke-White to Germany to photograph its emerging industries…Between 1930 and 1933, she made three trips to the Soviet Union to photograph industry and life there. The images, published in Soviet magazines, Fortune, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and her own book, Eyes on Russia, made Bourke-White one of the most famous photographers in America.
In 1936, Bourke-White…[became the first female staff photographer at LIFE magazine], she would remain with LIFE for the rest of her career. [During World War II], Bourke-White became the first female war correspondent accredited by the military…When she learned of secret plans to invade the North African coast, she requested permission to cover the Allied invasion. She got there not by plane, reserved primarily for high-ranking officers, but by boat, which came under torpedo attack. She escaped with others on a flooded lifeboat, photographing the harrowing ordeal with the one camera she managed to save. And she was granted permission to accompany and photograph a bombing mission. No woman had been granted this privilege before.
In 1943, Bourke-White recorded the war in Italy from the ground. Although she had survived torpedo and artillery attacks, she claimed she was never as frightened as she was on the front in Italy, crawling on the ground with mortar shells and enemy fire whizzing by. She left there in 1945 when she accompanied General Patton as his troops marched across Germany…[where] she photographed some of the most horrible scenes of the war…
When she returned to the United States in 1951, LIFE capitalized on her love of heights by sending her eight miles into the sky to photograph the bomber planes of the Strategic Air Command. That fall, she was photographing a U.S. Navy helicopter practicing rescues when the chopper in which she was a passenger crashed into the Chesapeake Bay. She escaped with minor injuries, her courage unscathed.”