June 14, 2009
The name MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE (1904-71) conjures up an image: a woman with a camera balanced atop one of the chromed, art-deco eagles that guard the upper reaches of New York’s Chrysler Building. Though she didn’t snap the shutter herself, the portrait is emblematic of both her physical courage and commitment to her art. Her photojournalism broke barriers at time when women were supposed to be shy and retiring: Bourke-White’s work inside steel factories, as the first western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union, and on the front lines of World War II demonstrated otherwise. Her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, was published in 1963; I read it in fifth grade and was inspired by her larger-than-life experiences, among them witnessing the liberation of Buchenwald, and interviewing Gandhi hours before his assassination. She survived a helicopter crash and being strafed by the Luftwaffe, succumbing at the end only to Parkinson’s disease. So when adversity strikes, I like to remind myself of Bourke-White on her precarious perch: fearless and following her dream.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-13) Generations.