MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE: A Biography by Vicki Goldberg
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Long before women ""came a long way,"" Bourke-White was proving that there was no such thing as a woman's place, unless it was dangling out of open airplane doors over the Arctic, or scrambling between reporters' legs to get a close-up picture of the president, in which manner Bourke-White became synonymous with photojournalism to a couple of generations nurtured by the pages of Life Magazine. Goldberg, using Bourke-White's own archives and interviews with many of the photographer's contemporaries, has put together a fine example of the biographic art. It is a ""life and times,"" to be exact, and Bourke-White seemed always to be on the cusp of history. Rising from a perfectionist household in Bound Brook, NJ, she was there to record the Depression, the rise of Hitler, WW II, Korea, while in between chronicling the industrial growth of America, the misery of the dust bowls, and the beauteous dangers of the Arctic. (She was interviewing Gandhi only minutes before his assassination, an example of her uncanny fortune in being at the right place at the right time.) Chronicled here is not only the unbounded energy of this whirlwind of a woman, but her inability to really get close to people. (Even criticisms of her photography centered on this flaw; her pictures were often judged as being too mechanical and affected, her models too obviously posed.) Her problems in this area led her to expend her huge sexual energies on countless lovers, the most meaningful of which were Erskine Caldwell, with whom she collaborated on a couple of photo-documentary books, and the violinist and conductor Alexander Schneider. Since Bourke-White only showed herself in her best light in her own autobiographical Portrait of Myself, Goldberg does a service to history in showing her warts-and-all. In this insightful biography, the author has not only enshrined Bourke-White for the ages, but has sounded the alarm that here is a biographer to take note of. We shall hear much of her in the future.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row