After spending her childhood in New Jersey, Margaret Bourke-White attended a number of colleges, including Columbia University in New York where her interest in photography blossomed. Photography helped to pay for her college costs, and she eventually graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca in 1927. Bourke-White received early acclaim when a series of her photographs of the Cornell campus was published in the alumni newspaper.
Pioneering photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White was born in the Bronx, New York on June 14, 1904.
After college, Bourke-White moved to Cleveland to pursue her chosen career in photography. Her early photographs were often of industrial and architectural subjects, including a series of photographs of Ohio’s hellish steel mills glowing in the night. These powerful photographs impressed publishing titan Henry Luce, and in 1929 the young Bourke-White was hired by Luce as a photographer for his prestigious new Fortune magazine.
A true pioneer in her field, Margaret Bourke-White traveled to Germany in 1930 for Fortune magazine and photographed the emerging German war machine centered at the Krupp Iron Works. She then headed east, becoming the first Western photographer allowed into the newly-formed Soviet Union. Bourke-White documented her journey in Eyes on Russia in 1931 which captured the Russian people during the Soviet Union’s first Five Year Plan for industrialization.
Back in the United States, Bourke-White was chosen to be one of the first of only four staff photographers for the photo dominated Life magazine when it debuted. She once again made journalism history when her photograph of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana appeared on the first cover of Life Magazine in 1936.
Famed for breaking into territory that was previously off limits to women, Bourke-White was the first female photographer attached to the United States military during World War II, traveling to North Africa, Italy, and Germany. After World War II ended, she went to India to document the creation of India and Pakistan. While in India she took a now-legendary photo of Mahatma Gandhi seated at a spinning wheel. Bourke-White later accompanied the South Korean Army during the Korean War, and traveled to South Africa to document the controversial racial policy known as Apartheid.
In 1952 Bourke-White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Despite her diagnosis, she continued to photograph and write until it became too difficult to work a camera. Bourke-White fully retired from her beloved Life magazine in 1969 to her home in Connecticut, and passed away there in 1971.