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22 Pictures That Helped Define The 20th Century

"Saturate yourself with your subject, and the camera will all but take you by the hand and point the way." —Margaret Bourke-White

Posted on March 27, 2019, at 5:08 p.m. ET

Oscar Graubner / Getty Images

Margaret Bourke-White taking a photo from a precarious position on the Chrysler Building in New York City, 1934.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White accomplished many firsts in her lifetime — she is considered the first woman war photographer and the first foreigner allowed to photograph in the Soviet Union. Her work is on the cover of the first issue of Life magazine and her career helped pave a path for the women photographers who came after. Bourke-White’s uncanny ability to convey sentiments and stories in pictures, no matter the assignment, made her one of the most important and prolific photographers of the 20th century.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Bourke-White atop a B-17 bomber in Polebrook, England, 1942.

As a child, Bourke-White’s father, Joseph White, encouraged her interest in photography by sharing his love for optics and printmaking with her. After White's death in 1922, Bourke-White’s mother, Minnie Bourke, purchased for her a secondhand camera that kick-started her profession as a photographer. She graduated from Cornell University in 1927 after studying under Photo-Secessionist Clarence White and soon after started her own business in Cleveland.

Her striking and undeniably modern pictures caught the eye of magazine publisher Henry Luce, who in 1930 offered Bourke-White a staff position at Fortune magazine. Her work there allowed her the opportunity to document emerging industries in prewar Germany. In 1935, she became the first foreigner granted permission to shoot within the Soviet Union. The next year, Luce once again offered Bourke-White a job — this time at his new magazine, Life.

For the rest of her career, Bourke-White photographed for Life magazine, documenting some of the most impactful moments of the 20th century: from the battlefields of World War II to the harsh realities of segregation in the American South. Margaret Bourke-White died in 1971 from Parkinson's disease at age 67.

These pictures highlight the incredible career and everlasting legacy of Margaret Bourke-White.

The Life Images Collection / Getty Images

Left: The first cover of Life magazine features a photograph of the Fort Peck Dam over the Missouri River in Montana, Nov. 23, 1936. Right: Ammonia storage tanks at a nitrogen fixation plant, 1939.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Members of the flight and ground crews of a B-17 bomber make adjustments to their plane prior to a mission in 1942.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Two fliers of the 8th Bomber Command clad in high-altitude flying clothes on Sept. 1, 1942.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Comedian and singer Martha Raye performs for an audience of US soldiers during a United States Organizations (USO) tour for troops stationed in North Africa, 1943.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Artillery Marines of the Army's 92nd Division on April 1, 1945.

Margaret Bourke-white / The Life Picture Collection / Getty

A crowd of 40,000 people give the Nazi salute in response to a speech given by Czech Nazi leader Konrad Henlein on May 1, 1938.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Emaciated male prisoners lie in bunks at the Buchenwald concentration camp during liberation by US forces on April 28, 1945.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

A man weeps near a charred corpse at the Erla work camp #3 on May 1, 1945.

Margaret Bourke-White / The Life Picture Collection / Getty Images

Left: Russian Bricklayer Mikhail Tovarisch, 1931. Right: Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, mother of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, 1931.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

A segregated space in Greenville, South Carolina, 1956. The photo was taken for an essay on racial inequality and segregated facilities in Greenville.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Neighbors watch as a shirtless man is arrested for disorderly conduct in Greenville, South Carolina, 1956.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

An unidentified family shares a laugh as they cut watermelon slices in Greenville, South Carolina, 1956.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Black flood victims line up to get food and clothing from a Red Cross relief station in front of an ironic billboard on Feb. 2, 1937.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Portrait of an elderly sharecropper and his wife, circa 1937.

Margaret Bourke-white / Getty Images

Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi reads as he sits cross-legged on floor at his home in 1946. A spinning wheel looms in the foreground as a symbol of India's struggle for independence.

Margaret Bourke-white

Unidentified Herero tribe members in Windhoek, Namibia, 1950. They both wear print dresses based on those of the colonial German missionaries who occupied the area in the 19th century.

Margaret Bourke-white

A Tembu miner, covered by a blanket dyed with red ochre, awaits a medical exam in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1950.

M. Mckeown / Getty Images

Margaret Bourke-White attending an exhibition of her work on April 20, 1964.


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