In Photos: The Photography of Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White was born in New York City in 1904, and grew up in rural New Jersey. She went on to study science and art at multiple universities in the United States from 1921 to 1927, then began a successful run as an industrial photographer, making notable images of factories and skyscrapers in the late 1920s.

By 1929, she began working for magazine publishers, joining both Fortune and, later, LIFE. She spent years traveling the world, covering major events from World War II to the partition of India and Pakistan, the Korean War, and much more.

Bourke-White held numerous “firsts” in her professional life—she was the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures of Soviet industry, she was the first female staff photographer for LIFE magazine and made its first cover photo, and she was the first woman allowed to work in combat zones in World War II.

Gathered here, a small collection of the thousands of remarkable images she made over a lifetime—Margaret Bourke-White passed away in 1971, at age 67, from Parkinson’s disease.


Margaret Bourke-White, a photographer for LIFE magazine, makes a precarious photo from one of the eagles on the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building in New York City in 1934.

Oscar Graubner / The LIFE Images Collection via Getty

Steel support struts are visible inside several newly constructed giant pipes to be installed in a diversion tunnel that will carry the Missouri River around Fort Peck Dam construction in Montana in 1936.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Outside a ramshackle barn in a windswept landscape, two men sharpen a blade on a hand-cranked grinding wheel while others, including several barefoot children, wait nearby, photographed in 1934.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

African American flood victims line up to get food and clothing from a Red Cross relief station in front of billboard ironically extolling “WORLD’S HIGHEST STANDARD OF LIVING / THERE’S NO WAY LIKE THE AMERICAN WAY.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Original caption: “A group shot of escorts for lovely princesses & countesses of the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation Ball, who are chosen by the members of a special committee from Omaha’s socially elite. October 1938.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

An aerial view of a Douglas DC-4E aircraft flying over Manhattan in 1939.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Scottish Cameron Highlander and Indian troops march past pyramids in Egypt in 1940, part of the Allied defense preparations against an Italian attack, during World War II.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Original caption: “Members of the native Bedouin camel cavalry called Meharists commanded by the officers of the French expeditionary force, pose on their she-camel mounts (males are only good for beast of burden) in desert near Damascus. May 1940.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Original caption: “Uniform-clad pupils at the Chisinau School for Girls give the official salute of the Straga Taree (Watch of the Country), a compulsory fascistic Romanian Youth Organization. February 1940.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Original caption: “Overall view of central Moscow with antiaircraft gunners dotting sky over Red Square with exploding shells, with spires of Kremlin silhouetted by a German Luftwaffe flare. July 26, 1941.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

A Russian women’s brigade wields crude rakes to gather up a hay harvest on a collective farm outside the capitol in 1941.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Original caption: “Wartime Chinese orphans with hands over their ears as they sing a bombing song, ‘Oom, Oom, Oom’ (the sound of the planes) at an orphanage funded by United China Relief, a central U.S. organization for eight Chinese aid societies. July 1941.”

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Female welders at work in a steel mill in Indiana in 1942, replacing men called to duty during World War II.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Two fliers of the 8th Bomber Command, clad in high-altitude flying clothes including sheepskin coats and helmets, oxygen masks, and sunglass goggles, at an aerodrome in southern England in September of 1941.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Twelfth U.S. Air Force in B-17 bombers fly over the African coast returning from a bombing mission near El Aouina airfield in 1943, during World War II.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Original caption: “Margaret Bourke-White at the ready, standing by an airplane propeller and fully garbed in a leather fleece-lined flight suit, camera in hand. 1943.”

Bettmann / Getty

Left: An American gun crew fires their 155mm caliber field gun, known as a Long Tom, toward German positions several miles away during the campaign to retake Italy in 1944. Right: A nighttime artillery barrage by Allied forces supporting a U.S. patrol attacks German fortification positions in the Apennine Mountains on the Italian front.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

An aerial view of a bomb-damaged residential area after an Allied air attack on Essen, Germany, in 1945.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

Ruins of a bomb-damaged bridge lie in the harbor after an Allied air attack on Düsseldorf, Germany, in July of 1945.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

An American soldier chats with a sunbathing German girl in postwar Berlin, Germany, in 1945.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

African American students sit in class at the brand new George Washington Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama, in September of 1949.

Margaret Bourke-White / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

 

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4 Comments

  1. Yvonne Hughes says

    Love all the photos you post they are amazing. Thank you.

  2. Ursula B Adamson says

    Margaret Bourke-White, what a lady, what a photographer. Thank you for posting these rare photos.

  3. Veronica Lombardi says

    Amazing photos. She’s an enigma. Why have I not heard of her. Will seek out her photos now!

  4. tony couch says

    great photos

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