Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White was the first female staff photographer at Life magazine.[1] Originally starting with industrial photography in the 30’s, Bourke-White shifted to World War II photography when she happened to be in Moscow during Germany’s attack there.[2] Not only did she photograph the event, but she also helped citizens escape from the attack.[3] Bourke-White later joined the Airforce and photographed the Allied Forces’ time in North Africa, Italy, and, most importantly, Germany.

Behind the Picture: The Liberation of Buchenwald, April 1945
Margaret Bourke-White’s image, “Survivors at the Wire,” wasn’t published in Life Magazine until 15 years after it was taken

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It was in Germany that she photographed horrors such as the families of Nazi officials who had all committed suicide, as well as the Jewish concentration camps.[5] The pictures she took during the liberation of the Buchenwald camp highlighted a side of the war that many back on the home front hadn’t really taken into consideration. Many of the photos she took at the camp were too horrific for the original story, however some were chosen to open the eyes of the American citizens to the atrocities that were committed at these camps.[6] Bourke-White’s photos showed prisoners who were so weak and emaciated they could barely walk, piles of dead bodies, hanging corpses, and the charred remains of Jewish prisoners who had been kept there.

The dead.jpg
This photo was not published. These are some of the dead that were found at the Buchenwald camp. 

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She wrote, “There was an air of unreality about that April day in Weimar, a feeling to which I found myself stubbornly clinging. I kept telling myself that I would believe the indescribably horrible sight in the courtyard before me only when I had a chance to look at my own photographs. Using the camera was almost a relief; it interposed a slight barrier between myself and the white horror in front of me.”[8]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

[1] Brannan, Beverly W. “Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971).” Women Photojournalists: Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) – Introduction & Biographical Essay (Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress). 2014. https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/womphotoj/bourkewhiteessay.html.

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[4] Cosgrove, Ben . “Buchenwald: Photos From the Liberation of the Camp, April 1945.” Time. October 10, 2013. http://time.com/3638432/behind-the-picture-the-liberation-of-buchenwald-april-1945/.

[5] Brannan, Beverly W. “Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971).” Women Photojournalists: Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) – Introduction & Biographical Essay (Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress). 2014. https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/womphotoj/bourkewhiteessay.html.

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[6] Cosgrove, Ben . “Buchenwald: Photos From the Liberation of the Camp, April 1945.” Time. October 10, 2013. http://time.com/3638432/behind-the-picture-the-liberation-of-buchenwald-april-1945/.

 

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