How did Margaret Bourke-White become the top photographer for Fortune
, a globetrotting adventuress who held court in the most glamorous studio on earth--a Chrysler Building penthouse patrolled by alligators, adjacent to the fierce gargoyle she made famous? By first muscling in as a master of the masculine art of corporate photography. For the first time, that early work has gotten its due in Stephen Bennett Phillips Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design 1927-36
. In insightful prose and glossily reproduced black-and-white photos, he opens our eyes to her fast-developing genius. Her 1927 photos of Clevelands Terminal Tower expertly aped the fuzzy, romantic pictorialism of early Edward Steichen, but her 1928 shot of the same building through the spiral grillwork shows her rigorous sense of composition. After she discovered magnesium lighting, her pictures of what couldve been ordinary industrial scenes acquired stunning star power. Rows of tin soup cans, aluminum rods, hogs hanging in a stockyard, Moscow ballet dancers, Wurlitzer organ pipes: she transformed them all into patterns bespeaking brute power. Her camera was a magic device that transformed everything she saw into a shiny Deco masterpiece. This book is as smart and beautiful as its stellar subject. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
Many of Bourke-White's photographs are 20th-century icons of "progress," yet it is still startling to see some of the most famous together: the image of a gargoyle on the Chrysler Building; the silver plane flying over downtown Manhattan; Montana's Fort Peck Dam, as part of her series on the New Deal. This catalogue and concurrent exhibit at the Phillips Collection in Washington displays only Bourke-White's early, technology-based work, before she was a featured photographer for Fortune and Time magazines. Industrial cables and aluminum rods are still in all their modernist glory, while workers on the Campbell Soup production line and those in Soviet factories show the muscle behind its mammoth forms. Phillips, curator at the Phillips Collection, contextualizes Bourke-White's work within the culture between the wars, when industry fell into the Depression and women were still early additions to parts of the workforce. With a chronology, selected correspondence and two radio transcripts of Bourke-White speaking ("I never run any risks-even if I do get into tight places that sound dangerous," she said on WNEW in 1935), along with newly published photographs and new research on the images, this catalogue gives nuance to a photographer whose work has become difficult to see behind the myths it helped create.
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