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Original name MARGARET WHITE American photographer, important as one of the innovators of the photo-essay in the field of photojournalism.
The daughter of an engineer-designer in the printing industry, White attended Columbia University (1922-23), the University of Michigan (1923-25), Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), and Cornell University (A.B., 1927). During her university years she studied and practiced photography, was briefly married (1925-26), and in 1926 adopted a new surname, Bourke-White, containing her mother's maiden name of Bourke. Beginning her professional career as an industrial and architectural photographer in 1927, she soon gained a reputation for originality, and in 1929 the publisher Henry Luce hired her for his new Fortune magazine.
While photographing the Krupp Iron Works in Germany and the First Five-Year Plan in the Soviet Union, she developed her personal photojournalistic style. She became one of the first four staff photographers forLife magazine when it began publication in 1936, and her photograph of Fort Peck Dam appeared on the cover of the first issue.
In 1935 she met the Southern novelistErskine Caldwell, and with him she collaborated on three illustrated works: You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), about Southern sharecroppers; North of the Danube (1939), on life in Czechoslovakia before the Nazi takeover; and Say, Is This the U.S.A. (1941), an American panorama. Bourke-White and Caldwell were married in 1939 and divorced in 1942.
With the outbreak of World War II, Bourke-White covered the war for Life and was the first woman photographer attached to the U.S. armed forces. Crossing the Atlantic to North Africa, her transport ship was torpedoed and sunk, but she survived to cover the bitter daily struggle of the Allied infantrymen in the Italian campaign. She then covered the siege of Moscow. Toward the end of the war, she crossed the Rhine River into Germany with the American troops. Her photographs of the emaciated inmates of concentration camps and of the corpses in gas chambers stunned the world.
After World War II, Bourke-White traveled to India to photograph Mahatma Gandhi. She also recorded the migration of millions of persons caused by the division of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. During the Korean War, as a war correspondent with South Korean troops, she penetrated deeply into communist territory and covered the fierce fighting there.
In 1952 Bourke-White was stricken with Parkinson's disease. Subsequently, much of her time was devoted to writing, but she also continued to photograph. Two of her last photo-essays were on the Jesuits in America and on the United States as viewed from the air. She retired from Life magazine in 1969.
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