Margareth Bourke-White

(New York, 1904 – Stanford, 1971)

Bio / italiano

Margareth Bourke-White studia alla Columbia University, dove frequenta il corso tenuto da Clarence H. White, ma conclude gli studi alla Cornell University nel 1926. L’anno successivo si trasferisce a Cleveland e apre un piccolo studio fotografico. Nel 1929 l’editore Henry Luce la invita a New York per contribuire alla nascita della rivista illustrata “Fortune”. Da questo momento la carriera di Bourke-White è in continua ascesa: pubblica i celebri reportage sulle industrie tedesche, sulla Russia del piano quinquennale e lavora come fotografa professionista per grandi aziende americane. Nel 1936, quando nasce “Life”, è la principale firma fotografica del giornale. Nello stesso anno dà alle stampe il celebre libro fotografico You have seen their faces con i testi del marito, lo scrittore Erskine Caldwell, denunciando la situazione di povertà del Sud degli Stati Uniti. Durante la guerra realizza reportage in Unione Sovietica, nel Nord Africa, in Italia e in Germania, seguendo l’entrata delle truppe statunitensi a Berlino e documentando gli orrori dei campi di concentramento. Nel 1957 esce il suo ultimo servizio su “Life”: costretta ad abbandonare la fotografia a causa dei sintomi del morbo di Parkinson, si dedica alla scrittura della sua autobiografia Portrait of Myself, pubblicata nel 1963.

Focus / italiano

Margareth Bourke-White studied at Columbia University under the tutelage of Clarence H. White but went on to conclude her studies at Cornell University in 1926. The following year, she moved to Cleveland and opened a small photography studio. In 1929, the editor Henry Luce invited her to New York to contribute to the launching of the Illustrated Magazine Fortune. From that point, Bourke-White’s career took off. She went on to publish celebrated photo features of the German industry, the Soviet’s Five-Year Plan and worked as a professional photographer for large American companies. In 1936, when Life was founded, she became and held the title of staff photographer. In the same year, she released the celebrated photographic book, You Have Seen Their Faces to the press with her husband, Erskine Caldwell as writer and reported the state of poverty in the United State’s deep South. During the war, she shot photo features in the Soviet Union, North Africa, Italy and Germany, following the American troops’ entry to Berlin and documented the horrors of the concentration camps. In 1957, her last photo shoot was published in Life, after which she was forced to abandon photography due to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, dedicating herself to writing her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, published in 1963.

Bio / english

On 23 November 1936, the first issue of Life was released with 380,000 copies in circulation. Margareth Bourke-White’s work was displayed on the cover, portraying the dam in Fort Peck, Montana. The image not only represents the geometric magnificence of the structure, which is clearly depicted in scale by the presence of two men standing at the bottom of the photograph, surrounded, and dominated by cement, but represents a true celebration of national engineering success, rising up again after the crisis of the preceding decade. Her style conformed perfectly with the propagandist intentions of the magazine whose implied objective was to announce the success of the New Deal to the world and the rebirth of the United States. Bourke-White was not unfamiliar with this style of photography. In fact, in her studio in Cleveland, she specialized in industrial subjects, working in particular with the Otis Steel Company. Her shots from this period represent one of the most significant testimonies of the rebirth of machinery in America and are at the same time, worthy of her fame as a heroic photographer, willing to accept any and all conditions and danger to be able to bring forth a praiseworthy image.

Focus / english

Juchitán is a town in the southeast of the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. In the Zapotec community gender stereotypes are often reversed with women holding positions of power and managing the market. The muxe, males who identify with the female gender, are respected and often cover roles of a certain importance within the social dynamics of the group. Although Juchitán being open to modernity and despite its proximity to the United States, these ancient traditions prevail strongly. Graciela Iturbide travelled here in 1979 upon her painter friend Francisco Toledo’ invitation to discover his own city. Many Mexican artists have shown an interest in this place, such as Tina Modotti, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. But Juchitán de las Mujeres, to which Iturbide dedicated 10 years of her life, is something completely different. The photos, in which the protagonists pose proudly in front of the camera, recount the public and private lives of these women. The rituals in which the Mexican Catholic tradition entwines with Indian mysticism are the centre of this vital universe. The result is a narration hanging in the balance between reality and myth creating a surreal and magical photo reportage, able to transpose onto a visual plane the complex Zapotec culture that permeates to a considerable extent the entire existence of the Juchitán inhabitants.