Margaret Bourke-White. Works 1930-1960

14 June – 6 October 2024

CAMERA’s summer program focuses on another great photographer, American Margaret Bourke-White, following the success of monographs on Eve Arnold and Dorothea Lange. Throughout her career, Bourke-White’s achievements ranged from the cover of the first issue of the legendary LIFE magazine to her iconic portraits of Stalin and Ghandi. Her significance lies not only in being the “first” to break down barriers and gender boundaries, but above all in the very high quality of the images she produced, which could tell the complex human experience through popular publishing.

The transformation of the world is at the heart of Bourke-White’s enthusiastic and relentless research. Born in New York in 1904, she studied biology at Columbia University and took a photography course taught by Clarence H. White. When she transferred to Cornell University, she began selling the photographs she took on campus to support herself during her studies. She settled in Cleveland in 1926 and opened a small photography studio. By day, she immortalized architecture and gardens, earning enough to buy equipment and supplies that she used at night to photograph the city’s large steel mills. In 1929, she was invited to New York by the publisher Henry Luce to help launch the illustrated magazine Fortune. From this point on, Bourke-White’s career took off. She published famous reports on American industry and traveled to the Soviet Union to document the development of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan to transform the country into a major industrial power.

During this time, she took up residence on one of the top floors of the Chrysler Building. In one of her most famous images, she perches on one of the building’s large gargoyles, unprotected, photographing the hustle and bustle of the city from above.

The first issue of LIFE was published on November 23, 1936, with a circulation of 380,000 copies. The cover was by Bourke-White and depicted the dam at Fort Peck, Montana. Its style fits perfectly with the magazine’s propagandistic intent, which was to proclaim to the world the success of the New Deal and the rebirth of the United States. Her images from this period fully embody the triumph of the “machine age,” while at the same time earning her a reputation as a heroic photographer willing to accept any condition and danger in order to take a good picture.

In 1936, she also published a book of photographs, You Have Seen Their Faces, with texts by her husband, the writer Erskine Caldwell, denouncing poverty and segregation in the Southern United States.

During World War II, she reported from the Soviet Union, North Africa, Italy, and Germany, following the entry of U.S. troops into Berlin and documenting the horrors of concentration camps. After a career of unforgettable reportage, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease forced her to give up photography in 1957, and she devoted herself to writing her autobiography, “Portrait of Myself,” published in 1963. She died in 1971 from complications of the disease.


The exhibition, curated by Monica Poggi, consists of about 150 images that tell the story of Bourke-White’s extraordinary work and life, and also presents a rich selection of the magazines in which her major shoots appeared.


 A catalogue published by Dario Cimorelli Editore will also be released on the occasion.