Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design, 1927-1936

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Phillips Collection, 2003 - Photography - 207 pages
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Margaret Bourke-White is best known as the first staff photographer of Fortune magazine, the first female war correspondent, and the woman whose photographs made the covers of Life magazine famous. But before she began traveling throughout the world to document history in the making, Bourke-White was creating evocative abstract photographs of American industry and architecture. Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 examines for the first time the works produced during this preeminent photographer's critical early years.

It was in a photography class as a freshman at Columbia University that Bourke-White was first exposed to the work of Arthur Wesley Dow and the abstract style that quickly came to characterize her own work. Upon moving to Cleveland in 1927, Bourke-White began creating abstract photographs of the city's industrial architecture, an unusual subject for a female photographer at that time. The world of machines and technology was a familiar one for Bourke-White, however, whose father was an engineer and inventor. And the monumental forms, geometric shapes, and cold steel of industrial plants and their machines lent themselves perfectly to the abstract style Bourke-White had already developed in her work.

The resulting sparse, yet powerful compositions of American industry rivaled the similarly-themed paintings of Precisionist artists Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, and quickly pushed Bourke-White's work to the forefront of American abstraction. It was on the basis of these early photographs, icons of American strength and steadfastness in uncertain times, that Henry Luce offered Bourke-White a job shooting images for the pages of Fortune. When he launched Life magazine in 1936, Bourke-White's photograph of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana graced the first cover.

Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 is a groundbreaking volume, an exploration of the first decade of the career of a remarkable photographer. An essay by Stephen Bennett Phillips chronicles these years and interprets the work produced, much of which has never before been published. This book is the companion to the nationwide traveling exhibition of the same name, organized by The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

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About the author (2003)

Stephen Bennett Phillips is curator at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and is the organizer of Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936. His previous projects at The Phillips Collection, where he has worked since 1988, include Degas to Matisse: Impressionist and Modern Masterworks from The Detroit Institute of Arts, Twentieth-Century Still-Life Paintings from The Phillips Collection, and An Irish Vision: Works by Tony O'Malley. His writings also include essays on William Christenberry, Janet Fish, and Renée Stout.

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