Margaret Bourke-White

Material Information

Margaret Bourke-White the photojournalist and the woman
Midcap, Lucille Scott, 1944-
Place of Publication:
Gainesville FL
University of Florida
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
iv, 66 leaves : ; 28cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Art photography ( jstor )
Cameras ( jstor )
Courage ( jstor )
Film editing ( jstor )
Journalism ( jstor )
News content ( jstor )
Photo editing ( jstor )
Photographers ( jstor )
War ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Journalism and Communications -- UF
Journalism and Communications thesis M.A.J.C
Photojournalists -- Biography ( lcsh )
Women photographers -- Biography ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
individual biography ( marcgt )


Thesis (M. A. in J. and Com.)--University of Florida.
Includes bibliographical references.
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Lucille Scott Midcap.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
Copyright Lucille Scott Midcap. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
000169482 ( ALEPH )
02904946 ( OCLC )
AAT5890 ( NOTIS )

Full Text








To Jim

My husband and best friend


The author wishes to express her sincere appreciation

to Dr. Harry H. Griggs, committee chairman, for his interest,

encouragement and guidance throughout the preparation of

this thesis. Grateful acknowledgment is made for the assis-

tance rendered by Dr. H. Joseph Reitz, a member of the

thesis committee.

Gratitude is expressed to all those who generously

helped me in various ways. Some are quoted herein; many

are not.

Thanks to another mentor, Fred Parrish, from whose

photojournalism course this project arose.

Thirty-two years of counseling and guidance from two

dedicated parents and the support of an understanding

husband, as well, made this study possible.







The Early Years .. .
After World War II .
Notes . .


Purpose . .
Methodology .


Technique . .
Content . .
Notes . .


.Her Courage and Determination .
Her Illness .
Notes . .




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Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts in Journalism and Communictations



Lucille Scott Midcap

June, 1976

Chairman: Harry H. Griggs
Major Department: Journalism and Communications

Aspects of Margaret Bourke-White's skills as a photo-

journalist and of her personality are described. Library

research was augmented by interviews with persons who knew

her. Among primary sources are Peggy Smith Sargent, former

picture editor and film editor at LIFE magazine and former

secretary at the Bourke-White Studio; Rae O. Weimer, former

managing editor of PM; and Dick Pollard, former director

of photography at LIFE.

Bourke-White's success and fame seem to have been the

result of a combination of factors. Courageous, determined,

strong-willed and lucky, she possessed a keen eye for

striking photographic composition. She was ambitious and

at times showed little consideration for others. The fact

that she was a woman working in a competitive men's world

seemed to have contributed to her visibility and concurrently

to her success.




Mahatma Gandhi dubbed her "the torturer" because she

would not leave him alone. She kept coming back to take

his picture.1

The New York Times called her one of the world's pre-
eminent photographers. Carl Mydans, noted photographer,

described her as "a great photographer, an artist and a

true photojournalist,"3 and "one of the great achievers of

our time."4

Norman Cousins wrote, ". .. as a photojournalist, she

was at the top of her profession, but she was also an artist

among artists."5

Edward Steichen compared her with the best.6

Margaret Bourke-White has been described as the first
7 8
lady of photography, a genius with a camera, one of the
9 10
world's foremost photojournalists, a gallant woman,

fearless,11 legendary,12 unforgettable,13 and indestructible.14

She was one of the first four photographers on LIFE

magazine when it was born in 1936 and she officially retired

from Time-Life, Inc., in 1969.

She traveled to at least 45 countries covering more

than a million miles. She photographed the Depression

including the Dust Bowl, World War II (in which she was

the first woman to fly on a bombing mission), and she

traveled with guerrillas in.the Korean War.

In addition to thousands of photos published, she has

written many articles and book reviews, and has written

or co-authored eleven books. She photographed the indus-

trial revolution in Russian and the coming of freedom to


In 1936 she was selected by American women as one of
the ten outstanding women in the country. In 1951, she

received the American Woman of Achievement Award.16

Among the many accomplishments in the photographic

profession she is credited with, is the establishment of

a new measurement of the expectation for the art of the

photograph. She also perfected the synchronized multiple

flash-bulb picture.

"In those days news photographers were called 'Bang

Box Boys.' They shot pictures flat-on with one bulb on

the camera, producing chalk-white faces and tunnel-black

backgrounds. Maggie instead connected a number of flash

bulbs electrically and directed them at her subject from

various angles 17

The Early Years

Margaret Bourke-White entered the profession of photo-

graphy by accident. With a broken marriage, a camera with

a cracked lens and six universities behind her, she chose

to finish school at Cornell "because there were waterfalls
on the campus."8 Since her father had died, she was

forced to support herself.

"Arriving in Ithaca, I did what other college students

do who are broke. I tried to get a job as a waitress.

Luckily for my photographic future, the waitress jobs were

all taken. By the time I got to the student library to

apply for a tempting forty-cents-an-hour job there, that

was snapped up too. I turned to my camera."l9

She sold pictures of the campus to other students, and

to the Alumni News for covers. She received letters from

Cornell alumni who were architects, stating there were

few good architectural photographers in the country. During

Easter vacation, she asked for an unbiased opinion from a

professional architect in New York. He and his associates

provided so much encouragement that, after graduation, she

returned to Cleveland, got a formal divorce, and began

taking pictures for architects, landscape architects and


She persevered in attempting to photograph the inside

workings of steel mills -- nearly every night for a whole

winter. The extreme contrasts of light and shade make a

difficult subject even today, with superior techniques and

equipment. Then she had no technique, almost no experience,

and relatively primitive photographic equipment. Week after

week she filled wastebaskets with unprintable negatives.

After months, she produced "an armful of pictures the like

of which no one has ever seen until now."20

They resulted in a privately printed book, The Story

of Steel. In 1929, she received a telegram from New York:




Bourke-White procrastinated because of lack of interest

in working for Time. Upon her eventual trip to New York,

Luce told her of a new magazine on business and industry he

was planning. Pictures and words would be conscious partners.

The camera would act as interpreter. She went to work for

FORTUNE eight months before the first issue appeared in

1930 -- in spite of the stockmarket crash of 1929.

In addition to working for FORTUNE, she contracted for

lucrative advertising accounts.

"The real gift of the advertising business to me,"

she wrote, "was practice in precision. I was glad to

have a chance to learn so much in a very stiff school."21

She also wrote, "The advertising photographer cannot

be sloppy or inexact. Here we have a use for photography

which increases still further the photographer's approach

to realism .a point comes where his work will increase

in merit from the advertiser's point of view only if he

himself begins to adopt that point of view. This business

of adopting the advertiser's point of view is a subtle and

curious thing. If his interests are drawing closer to

social realism and he is growing farther away from the

artificial atmosphere his clients are trying to promote,

he finds, as he goes out advertising assignment,

that he makes unaccountable mistakes.

"To go on competently in the line along which this

work leads him, he must abandon his own artistic and social


Even when doing a job he believes in, the artist

frequently finds unexpected limits to his free expression.

When doing a job he does not believe in, he suffers through

the necessity of portraying his subject in a way that has

become to him unreal .

"Like the painter, the photographer is seeking a wider

world, one in which his desire for self-realization is not

achieved at the cost of his integrity."22

Those words somewhat explain why, at the moment when

financial rewards were the greatest, Margaret Bourke-White

turned her back on Madison Avenue, refusing a job that would

have brought her $1,000 a picture.23

In 1930 she left on the first of three trips to Russia.

She spent five weeks that summer photographing the vast new

industry being built under the Five Year Plan. She traveled

more than 5,000 miles and took 800 exposures of mills,
quarries, factories and farms. Her two travelogues, "Eyes

on Russia" (1931) and "Red Republic" (1934) were the first

moving pictures to be made in Soviet Russia with the full

permission of the Soviet authorities.

The first large permanent photo mural for NBC studios

in Rockefeller Center was done by her in 1933.25

FORTUNE sent her to the Midwest in 1934 to photograph

the great drought, the Dust Bowl. She chartered an old

plane and a barnstorming pilot to cover much territory in

a short time. Later, she wrote, "The storm comes up in a

terrifying way. Yellow clouds roll. The wind blows such

a gale that it is all my helper can do to hold by camera

to the ground. The sand whips into my lens. I repeatedly

wipe it away trying to snatch an exposure before it becomes

completely coated again. The light becomes yellower, and

the wind cooler. Soon there is no photographic light, and

we hurry for shelter to the nearest farmhouse."26

The drought was a powerful eye-opener for her, and she

claimed it showed her that right in her own country, there

were worlds about which she knew almost nothing.

"FORTUNE assignments had given me a magnificent intro-

duction to all sorts of American people. But this time it

was not the cross section of industry I wanted. Nor was it drama of agricultural crisis. It was less the

magazine approach and more the book approach I was after.

It was based on a great need to understand my fellow Americans

better. I felt it should not be an assignment in the ordin-

ary sense but should be as'independent of any regular job
as my steel mill pictures had been."27 She believed the

book had to be a collaboration between words and pictures,

and since she did not consider herself a writer, she hoped

to find an author.

Within a couple of weeks, she heard of an author in

search of a photographer interested as he was in American

people, everyday people.

Although at first Erskine Caldwell did not like the

idea of working with a woman, eventually they toured the

Deep South, and produced the criticized but also highly-

acclaimed book, You Have Seen Their Faces (The Viking Press,

1937). Bourke-White was glad when reviews hailed the new

art of collaboration.

"This was just what I had hoped -- that through the

fusion of words and pictures, we would create something

new." Twelve years later in Africa, the book provided a

channel for her to meet the natives.

"I remember feeling quite desperate as I walked along

a Capetown street down near the piers. Suddenly a native

African woman came up behind me and spoke my name. She

had recognized me from a newspaper picture. She pulled

from her blouse a well-worn copy, obviously widely circu-

lated, of You Have Seen Their Faces. Through this unexpected

contact, I was able to complete my story. I am sure that

many of these people could not read the book, but still they

knew it. They believed I would be trying to get to the truth

of a question, and they trusted me."28

The first issue of LIFE magazine on November 23, 1936,

bore Margaret Bourke-White's photo of Fort Peck Dam in

Montana. Upon her return from Montana, "she brought back

the kinds of dramatic construction pictures for which she

was already famous, including the cover picture of the dam


"But her coverage of daily life in the gritty shanty-

towns surrounding the project created a new form of journal-

ism in America, the photographic essay." 29

Early in October, 1939, shortly after the start of the

war in Europe, LIFE sent her abroad. Her first stop was

London, where she stayed until early December. She took

pictures of the blackouts, of Winston Churchill on his

birthday (which appeared as LIFE's cover April 29, 1940)

and of Emperor Haile Selassie. Then she photographed

Romanian oil fields, and went through Bessarabia where "I

nearly froze my legs off while I was working in a blizzard."30

She then traveled to Constanta on the Black Sea, and

on to Istanbul, Turkey, where she took pictures of the

President of Turkey, and she was arrested for taking pictures

in a Moslem Temple during a prayer meeting. In Beirut, she

photographed General Weygand, then commander of Allied

Forces in the Near East, and she learned to ride a military

camel. She continued on to Egypt, where she photographed

the King of Egypt, and many French and British colonial

troops stationed at the foot of the pyramids near the Nile.

While covering Russian soldiers fighting the Nazis

within 150 miles of Moscow, she bemoaned not the personal

hardships but the fact that "during the week at the front,

I had a total of 16 minutes of sunlight."31

For her meeting with Stalin in the Kremlin (arranged

by Harry Hopkins) she employed a strategem to catch him

off guard. Recalling the incident, she wrote:

"I made up my mind that I wouldn't leave without

getting a picture of Stalin smiling. When I met him, his

face looked as though it were carved out of stone, he

wouldn't show any emotion at all. I went virtually berserk

trying to make that "great stone face" come alive.

"I got down on my hands and knees on the floor and

tried out all kinds of crazy postures searching for a good

camera angle. Stalin looked down at the way I was squirming

and writhing and for the space of a lightning flash, he

smiled, and I got my picture. Probably he had never seen

a girl photographer before, and my weird contortions amused


Shewas the only American photographer in Moscow during

the German bombing of that city. Among the incidents she

recounts is this: ". .. the loudest bomb scream I have

ever heard sent me running back to an inside closet. .

When it landed, my cameras were blown into the room by the

bomb blast. The Germans had scored their hit and blown

up a Kremlin palace.'. Neither this nor any other hit

made on the Kremlin was ever permitted by the censors to

be released in news dispatches."33

Her subsequent book, Shooting the Russian War (Simon

and Schuster, 1942), in a review was described as containing

"magnificent photographs."34

On her way to North Africa during the war, the troop-

ship on which she was a passenger was sunk, and she cabled

home, "What incredible be torpedoed!"35

After World War II

In the early 1950's, Michael J. Arlen was a new young

reporter on LIFE. As he was preparing to go to Central

America, ". .all my colleagues commiserated on having

Bourke-White as a traveling companion. I had never met

Bourke-White. She had been traveling with a band of South

Korean guerrillas recently, and had been resting up from

that experience in California. Her nerves had been badly

shaken in Korea, according to reports. She had been taken

out of Seoul on a stretcher, someone said.

"My friends, however, seemed less concerned with her

health than mine. 'She'll work you to death,' said Loomis.

'All you ever do on a Bourke-White story is lug cameras. .

"It's a real bitch of a job.'

"I didn't know what he was talking about -- a real

bitch of a job. Clearly that was the professional view.

I said that I wouldn't let her push me around. I didn't

say what I thought: that it sounded like the best deal

I've ever had, and that I'd have gladly carried Bourke-White

herself in order to go on it."

Arlen and Bourke-White became friends in Central

America, and he eventually admitted that he enjoyed having

a cup of coffee with Bourke-White more than with Alfred

Eisenstaedt or her other photographer colleagues at LIFE.36

Another of her colleagues, Carl Mydans, wrote of her,

Her influence on all of us was incalculable. It

was from her that I learned to worship the quality of a

photographic print. She was a perfectionist. Little

that she ever did really satisfied her. Maggie was

one of the first women to compete and excel in her male-

dominated field."

Mydans noted, "Together, in parallel efforts and tech-

niques, Bourke-White and the 35mm school were to usher in

an epoch of photography that now, 35 years later, still

permeates our culture."37

She fell prey in 1952 to the crippling disease of the

central nervous system, Parkinson's disease. But, as

Norman Cousins noted, "years after she was stricken. .

she had still lost none of the buoyancy and sparkle that

had always made her such a delight to her friends .

"It is as a person that her greatness was most mani-

fest. For more than 15 years, she was terribly and pain-

fully crippled. Her courage in fighting her disease was

beyond belief. .She stayed out of wheelchairs through

sheer will power."

"Once we called on her at home to take her to Christmas

dinner and found her on the floor struggling vainly to get

to her feet. She had fallen several hours earlier. She

said she was so amused by her 'turtle act' that it didn't


occur to her to pull down a telephone and call for help.

We never knew which was the greater -- her personal courage

or her zest for life. Perhaps they were one and the same,"

Cousins wrote.38


"The Great Achiever," Time, 6 September 1971, p. 50.

Alden Whitman, "Margaret Bourke-White, Photo-Journal-
ist, Is Dead," New York Times, 28 August 1971, sec. 1, p. 1.

Ralph Graves, "Incredible Will of Creativity," LIFE,
27 June 1969, p. 3.

"Great Achiever," p. 50.

Norman Cousins, "Peggy," Saturday Review, 11 September
1971, p. 29.


"Great Lady with a Camera," LIFE, 28 June 1963, p. 85.

"Story of a Pro: Ours and Yours," LIFE, 22 June 1959,
p. 2.

"Bourke-White, Margaret," Current Biography, 1971, p.

"A Gallant Woman Joins Men Who Report War," LIFE,
1 December 1952, p. 2.

11"Story of a Pro," p. 2.

12"Bourke-White's 25 Years," LIFE, 16 May 1955, p. 16.

1Carl Mydans, "Unforgettable Margaret Bourke-White,"
Reader's Digest, August 1972, p. 69.

George P. Hunt, "Maggie, the Indestructible," LIFE,
28 June 1963, p. 3.

15"White, Margaret Bourke," Current Biography, 1940,
p. 862.

6Margaret Bourke-White, "The Best Advice I Ever Had,"
Reader's Digest, May 1957, p. 84.

1Carl Mydans, "Unforgettable Margaret Bourke-White,"
Reader's Digest, August 1972, p. 69.

8Margaret Bourke-White, Portrait of Myself (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1963), p. 30.


20bid., p. 6
21Ibid., p. 60.
Ibid., p. 80.

2Margaret Bourke-White, "Photographing This World,"
The Nation, 19 February 1936, p. 217.

W. L. Rivers, "Focussing a Wide Angle Lens on.Life,"
Saturday Review, 29 June 1963, p. 25.

2Margaret Bourke-White, Eyes on Russia (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1931), p. 11.

25Current Biography, 1940, p. 862.

2Margaret Bourke-White, "Dust Changes America," The
Nation, 22 May 1935, p. 597.

27Bourke-White, Portrait, p. 113.

28Ibid., p. 139.

29"Thirty-six Years Ago in LIFE," LIFE, 24 November
1972, p. 34.

30Current Biography, 1940, p. 862.

31"Great Achiever," p. 50.

3Whitman, p. 28.

3Bourke-White, Portrait, p. 179.


Mark Gayn, "With Notebook and Camera in Russia,"
The Saturday Review of Literature, 22 August 1942, p. 10.

3Bourke-White, "Best Advice," p. 84.

3Michael J. Arlen, "Green Days and Photojournalism,
and the Old Man in the Room," Atlantic, August 1972, p. 59.

Mydans, "Unforgettable," p. 70.

38Cousins, "Peggy," p. 29.
Cousins, "Peggy," p. 29.



The purpose of this historical study is to add perspec-

tive to the existing knowledge of the field of communication,

of photojournalism and of one of its practitioners, Margaret


A review of literature by and about Bourke-White shows

that the existing published work is overwhelmingly pro-Bourke-

White. Indeed she seems to have been a talented photojournal-

ist, an inspiring individual and a legend in her own time.

To suggest that she possessed human foibles does not

detract from her virtues and successes. The spirit of

academic research would indicate a need for a more balanced

account of the photojournalist's life. The purpose is not

to judge her or others. Bourke-White herself was quoted

as having said, ". .. the utter truth is essential."

The topic of study is worthy in itself. It has special

significance at this time, in view of the current heightened

societal interest in visual communication, in accomplished

women, in America's past and in world communication -- of

which the universal language of photography is an integral




The purpose of this historical study is to add perspec-

tive to the existing knowledge of the field of communication,

of photojournalism and of one of its practitioners, Margaret


A review of literature by and about Bourke-White shows

that the existing published work is overwhelmingly pro-Bourke-

White. Indeed she seems to have been a talented photojournal-

ist, an inspiring individual and a legend in her own time.

To suggest that she possessed human foibles does not

detract from her virtues and successes. The spirit of

academic research would indicate a need for a more balanced

account of the photojournalist's life. The purpose is not

to judge her or others. Bourke-White herself was quoted

as having said, ". .. the utter truth is essential."

The topic of study is worthy in itself. It has special

significance at this time, in view of the current heightened

societal interest in visual communication, in accomplished

women, in America's past and in world communication -- of

which the universal language of photography is an integral



This study of the professional life of Margaret Bourke-

White began with a search of literature to gain background

knowledge about the woman, her photographic subjects, travels,

personal life and her education.

An extensive list of names was compiled from books,

magazine articles, newspaper articles and book reviews. The

names were primary sources -- persons who knew her at various

phases of her life, from early childhood 'until her death.

The names were accompanied by a brief notation regarding the

person's professional position or the capacity in which he

or she interacted with Bourke-White.

The names were organized roughly into decades. The

list was so extensive it soon became apparent that economic

feasibility necessitated selectivity. The names for the new

abbreviated list were chosen if they met at least one of

three criteria: (1) the person spanned several decades of

Bourke-White's life, (2) the person's relationship to Bourke-

White seemingly had involved a significant amount of inter-

action or (3) the person was in a position to add a new

dimension or differing view of Bourke-White. This third

criterion proved to be especially valuable. (Among those

interviewed were photographers, editors, a reporter, a

secretary, darkroom personnel and an artist.)

Some addresses and telephone numbers were located in

city directories and telephone directories. Some were located

by calling Time, Inc., in New York. Others were discovered

by the grapevine approach, in which needed names and

addresses wove their way to the investigator through several


Finally, some addresses could not be found, and other

searches proved to be in vain. For example, Margaret Bourke-

White's first husband had been an engineering student named

Everett Chapman. An Everett Chapman listed in Who's Who

in Engineering had a Pennsylvania address. A phone call

ascertained that this Chapman is her first husband's son

by a subsequent marriage. The elder Chapman died six years


The list of names and addresses was organized into

geographic locations -- which spanned the globe. Midtown

Manhattan appeared to contain the largest concentration of


Telephone calls guaranteeing that enough key persons

were willing to be interviewed warranted a trip to New York.

In retrospect, the personal interviews proved to be espe-

cially valuable in providing the beginning of a study of

Bourke-White. (This study is not intended to be a defini-

tive work.) The researcher believes the interpersonal nature

of the discussions were infinitely more communicative than

letters and phone calls, in terms of insights, perceptions,

anecdotes and the acquisition of multi-faceted views of

the photojournalist.

Throughout the study, a sizable number of sources

were contacted by telephone and mail, but these methods

proved to be relatively fruitless, especially the letter-


The personal interviews were tape recorded with the

consent of the interviewees and tapes were labeled.

A stop in Washington, D.C., on the way back to Gaines-

ville netted one telephone conversation about Bourke-White

and many other calls made in vain. The fact that the stop

in Washington was on December 18 is believed to have had

a bearing on the relative lack of success. The National

Archives military history section was swamped with researchers

taking advantage of Christmas vacation. Other persons seemed

to have been wrapped up in Christmas activities and less

amenable to discussing Bourke-White than they might have

been at a time other than a holiday season.

The tapes of the interviews were transcribed into short-

hand and then played back as a double check for accuracy.

The pages in the steno books containing the transcripts were

numbered consecutively, and indices were printed on the

front covers. Such an organizational technique provided

an efficient means of sifting through the wealth of infor-

mation in an attempt to decide which material warranted

inclusion in the thesis.

In the spirit of academic pursuit, a conscious attempt

was made to include a balanced account of the photojournalist's

skills and personality traits. Biographical information was


kept to a minimum since such data is readily available


Also omitted were statements about Bourke-White that

were not corroborated by at least a second source (with

the exception of some anecdotes). That is not to doubt

the veracity of such recollections, but rather an attempt

to maintain credibility in this thesis.



Bourke-White legend abounds with stories about her

taking many pictures of a given subject. Some say that

she took too many -- that she "overshot."

Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the four original LIFE

photographers, recalled a reporter telling him of an inci-

dent in which Bourke-White tripped the shutter 75 times.

"She never moved the tripod and never changed the

angle of the pictures," Eisenstaedt said he was told.

He recalled a time after she became ill in which she

was given an assignment "to keep her busy so she doesn't

feel she's sick. .. They shouldn't have given her that

assignment to photograph people. She annoyed people.

"They had to throw her bodily out after 7 1/2 hours."1

Jules Zalon, a darkroom technician at Time, Inc., who

knew her negatives better than he knew her, agreed there

existed considerable repetition or back-up shots.

"You don't have to give yourself that much insurance,"

he said. "Generally three or four will be a good spare

tire. She was just being very cautious, I guess," said

Zalon, who also free-lances and teaches photography.



Bourke-White legend abounds with stories about her

taking many pictures of a given subject. Some say that

she took too many -- that she "overshot."

Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the four original LIFE

photographers, recalled a reporter telling him of an inci-

dent in which Bourke-White tripped the shutter 75 times.

"She never moved the tripod and never changed the

angle of the pictures," Eisenstaedt said he was told.

He recalled a time after she became ill in which she

was given an assignment "to keep her busy so she doesn't

feel she's sick. .. They shouldn't have given her that

assignment to photograph people. She annoyed people.

"They had to throw her bodily out after 7 1/2 hours."1

Jules Zalon, a darkroom technician at Time, Inc., who

knew her negatives better than he knew her, agreed there

existed considerable repetition or back-up shots.

"You don't have to give yourself that much insurance,"

he said. "Generally three or four will be a good spare

tire. She was just being very cautious, I guess," said

Zalon, who also free-lances and teaches photography.

"This is the theory of the monkey on the typewriter --

if he.pounds long enough, he's going to write something,"

he noted.

In 1937 -- ten years before he started work at Time-

Life, Inc., Zalon heard old-timers talking about her over-

shooting, and "laughing about the fact she would take that
many pictures to bring back what she was looking for."

Newspaper staffers were among those who joked about her

proliferation. That was partly because a newspaper would

send a man out with two sheets of film -- and he would

shoot both for safety.

PM staffers who shudder at the memory of her habit of

overshooting are Rae 0. Weimer, a former managing editor,

and John Pierotti, a former member of the art department.

Weimer said, "When she took a picture, she would set

up her camera and maybe take three or four pictures and

move it a little, and move it a little more and then she'd

get another camera. By the time she took 40 or 50 pictures,

you ought to get a few good ones out of it."

Weimer continued, "When you get ready to go through

the pictures to select what you wanted, you probably had

75 to 100 pictures there to select from. Not only was that

time-consuming, it was doggone expensive. You buy all that

film, run it through the darkroom and come up with a print

of each one. It was too expensive for us. She wasn't

worth it. I think we paid her $12,500 a year, which was a

pretty good salary in 1940. And we figured it must have

cost almost that much to keep her in business."

Perhaps, however, PM overextended itself financially

in the first place.

"PM was very publicity conscious for itself. We

spent, I guess, at least a half million dollars on promotion

before we hardly even got started. That's the reason we

went broke so early," he explained.3

A former PM artist, John Pierotti, said his most

vivid recollection of Bourke-White is "all her negatives

hanging in the darkroom -- about 10,000 of them for one

shot. She used to photograph something from 10 million

angles and have 30 or 40 prints of one subject. They were

strung up like a clothesline all over the place. Then she

would pick out the best print."4

Various reasons were suggested to explain why she

overshot. For one thing, she was slow in beginning to

use the 35mm camera which is a less obtrusive piece of


That was one explanation offered by Peggy Smith Sargent,

who worked as a secretary in the Bourke-White Studio, as

film editor at LIFE and finally as picture editor before

she retired.

"With a 35mm, you just do it automatically; suddenly

you have 20 exposures," Mrs. Sargent pointed out. "With the
big cameras, everyone is more conscious of these shots."

A LIFE photographer from the Bourke-White era, Albert

Fenn, noted the difference in equipment too. He said if

Bourke-White were using a single-lens Graflex with a maga-

zine, she could only use six films before having to re-load.6

Weimer and Mrs. Sargent noted that Bourke-White was

a perfectionist, and she may have thought that, by contin-

uing to shoot, she could get an even better picture.

Although sources agree she took more pictures than

most photographers in her time, they indicated she would

just be one of many today, and one of the reasons is the

existence of motorized cameras which inhale film at a rate

of 100 feet in 26 seconds.

Ralph Morse, another LIFE photographer from Bourke-

White's era, said, "Guys with motorized cameras at one

football game can use 50 rolls. The same guy is throwing

a football and they have 50 rolls of film."7

Zalon said, "I wish you could have seen the load of

Kodachrome that came up about two weeks ago. It was as

big as that couch. Five-hundred rolls. It was a fashion


Sources were asked if she changed the f-stops although

she did not move the angle until she had taken a number of


George Karas, chief of the photo lab at Time, Inc.,

said she did not change the f-stop much -- that she was

concentrating on the subject. Consequently, many of her

negatives were overexposed and flat.

Karas remembered, "We'd sometimes dread printing

Bourke-White negatives because they were tough to print,

but the end result was pride in her -- and yourself.

"The images were there, but it was a hell of a job

getting them out, from the negatives onto the piece of

print paper. They were mostly overexposed and the negatives

would be very very flat because of the overexposures, so you

would have to go to extremely contrasty paper."9

Darkroom technician Zalon agreed her negatives, espe-

cially her early ones, "weren't terribly good." They were

difficult to print, he said, because they were developed

in a crude way, and they required long exposures for burning

in and balancing the lights.

"They had to be worked on very hard; they required an

awful lot of controlling and dodging and holding back and

manipulating, -and that sort of thing."

Zalon printed pictures for what he called "the India

book," referring to Bourke-White's Halfway to Freedom

(Simon and Schuster, 1949). He said it involved a very

difficult set of negatives because of the contrasty subject --

people with dark-skinned faces and white clothing, so it

required trying to save the detail in the face while not

overexposing the clothes.0 He also was among those who

worked on the 1972 book edited by Sean Callahan, "the

photographs of Margaret Bourke-White."

In the acknowledgments, Callahan wrote, "Thanks to .

George Karas and his Photo Lab crew who assisted in the

production. Special thanks to such able technicians as

Gerald Lowther, Marty Olsen, Carmine Ercolano and Jules

Zalon, to name but a few, who worked long hours coaxing

fresh images out of faded old negatives."ll

Although Zalon said her negatives "didn't print by

themselves," he added the photos were exciting. Sources

agreed the content was there.

"What counts is she came up with some awfully good

pictures. She came up with stuff that was so different

for its time that she's got to get credit for that."12


In discussing content, Karas noted that she composed

on the ground glass. Although Cartier Bresson composed

on the glass about the same time, Karas said Bourke-White

might have been the first photographer for whom the lab

printed all the negatives with a black border, to show

there was no cropping -- that everything on the negative

was on the paper. That was unique, he said.

"To my knowledge, she was one of the very first -- if

not the first one -- to do this," Karas said. "This was

exactly the way she wanted a photo to appear in a magazine.

She didn't want it blown up; she didn't want it cropped.

She wanted it as she saw the picture and as she photographed

the picture."13

Photographers Fenn and Morse said that composing on

the ground glass is simply part of handling the large

cameras she used.

Fenn said she realized-the value of using a single-lens

reflex, in that there's no parallax, and the photographer

gets an idea of the depth of field.

Parallax is the apparent displacement of an object

when seen from two different viewpoints; what the photographer

sees through a viewfinder is not what the picture-taking lens

sees. Single-lens reflex cameras are focused through the

camera's one lens. Depth of field is the area between the

nearest and farthest points in acceptably sharp focus.

Morse, who still often uses a "four-five" (camera that

uses 4-inch by 5-inch film) said, "most people don't compose

with a 35mm. Most lift up a 35 and shoot. It's one of the

drawbacks of a 35; it's so easy to pick up a 35 and press

the button."14

Sources generally agreed the strength of Bourke-White's

photos existed in the composition and the subject, and that

over-all she was better at photographing things than people,

even though she had a reputation as a versatile photographer.

She produced striking pictures of what had previously been

thought to be mundane subjects. Her architectural and

industrial work shone.

"Bourke-White didn't want to know people that well.

She got beautiful pictures of things, tractors going across

a wheat field, and so forth," said Dick Pollard, former

director of photography at LIFE.15

Weimer said, "She could really take a picture of some-

thing inanimate, like a head of wheat. She got up so close

to it that it really made you study that tall stem of wheat.

You could really examine the minuteness of what it was.

"And she might do this with people, where you can count

every wrinkle in the face or in their hands. you could

kind of get a study of the character this guy's ears

stick out and she doesn't have the people looking at


"Any number of things, she might get right up close to

it, so it's something you would enjoy studying," Weimer

said. She had a well-developed sense of observation, he


Mrs. Sargent, as well, said, "You occasionally see some

very good pictures of people -- like the South African miners --

but she was never one to catch a picture quickly. She liked

to have control of the situation and have a person doing what

she wanted the person to do."17

Fenn described Bourke-White's pictures of the bombing

of Moscow as impressive and amazing since it contradicts a

photojournalistic precept that a photo needs to contain

humans to be alive.

"That city is under seige. There's no question about


Pollard noted Bourke-White was not a portraitist but

that her pictures of Gandhi were impressive because he

was visual.

"God, he's such a great photograph you couldn't miss."9

The statement points out another reason for the atten-

tion her photos received. She had become such a star herself

that she could pick her assignments, according to Ray Mackland,

a former LIFE picture editor.20 Apparently she had a shrewd

eye for what was marketable.

Weimer said she found pictures that would get in exhi-

bits, get reported as the prize-winning picture, or get

picked up by another magazine. LIFE might run a picture

full-page so that people would clip it and save it, he said.

One of the reasons her pictures were so startling was

the distance she went to get them -- from deep into mines

to high in the air on a bombing mission. Indications are

that, had her health remained, it is likely she would have

continued to be a pioneer.

Fenn recalled a revealing incident in 1946:

"I had just come out of the Army and was casting around

for ways to make a mark for myself. I hit upon a daring

idea. I said to Wilson Hicks, 'I'd like to put in a request

for a seat on one of these future inter-stellar flights.'

He had a way of looking at you over the top of his glasses,

and, in one of the very few times I remember him bursting

out into a big laugh, he said, would you believe

you're No. 3 on the list? The second is Woody Crane, and

the first is Margaret Bourke-White.'"

Fenn continued, "So when I say that she was always

right on the point, she really was .If the opportunity

would have arisen, she would have taken a flight to the


In yet another way of categorizing her, Pollard

maintained her individual pictures are stronger than her

photo essays.

"Eugene Smith is the greatest of photographers. His

stories stand up so much better. Spanish Village. Country

Doctor. You'd think it was shot yesterday. Gives you a.

kick in the pants. Bourke-White's first story in LIFE on

the Ft. Peck dam is the nothing' ball of all time," Pollard


"I don't think she was innately gifted I don't

think Maggie was an artist what's her rating in photo-

graphy? Her individual pictures are pretty damn good. Her

stories aren't that good. How do they compare to Eugene

Smith's? There's absolutely no comparison."22

Peggy Sargent said perhaps that's so, but that "Eugene

Smith was always fighting a cause, so that whatever he did

was angled at whatever the cause was he was fighting at

that particular point. I don't think she had that much of

a personal involvement."

And Mrs. Sargent does not agree completely with Pollard's

contention that Bourke-White was not an artist.

"He always was of the school that she used being a woman

to get what she did. But if you'll look through her pictures

you'll find things that show there was definitely an eye

there, or an ability.

"I know the common complaint was, 'If I took that

many pictures, of course one would turn out well.' That's

what they love to say. But if you really study it, and if

you happen to see all of the shots in a series, you see

that originally there is a composition that has been seen

in her eye -- that she hasn't got it hit or miss." So

said the former film editor and picture editor who saw

Bourke-White's unpublished pictures.

"It was thought out," Mrs. Sargent added. "It was not

catch as catch can by any means."23

Bourke-White's close-ups and imaginative angle shots,

coupled with some no-fail subjects would have been less

useful had she not had the cooperation of others.

"Bourke-White would go right to the head guy. Right to

the head guy. If there was a four-star general, she didn't

stop at the first, second or third. When Henry Luce was

managing editor, I doubt she worked much with the picture

editor," Pollard said.

Bourke-White legend includes many stories about her

cameras being carried by high-level personages.

"You hear generals have carried Maggie's cameras?

They did! They did!" Pollard said she liked an entourage.

"God,she was a pain in the neck sometimes. She'd

come into Casa Blanca when I'm in the Army. The Great

Bourke-White's arriving. She'd always have at least one

general (as Clare Luce would) and then a captain and then

a private, and she'd always try to get me or my wife to

come along too.

"She liked an entourage because she knew the value of

getting the proper cooperation -- and she got super cooper-

ation. She carried a lot of equipment and knew how to use

it," Pollard analyzed.

He thinks her penchant for carrying a great deal of

heavy equipment served purposes other than picture-taking

per se.

"She could get proper attention, so she could get the


Zalon remembered helping her downstairs with the

equipment one day.

"It must have been several tons of photographic

equipment. It was the largest pile of equipment I ever

saw, a tremendous amount."25

Eisenstaedt said she once did a story during World War

II on a Naval aircraft carrier. She wired ahead that she

was arriving so eight persons waited for her to carry her

camera bags and equipment.

"The last man didn't have anything to carry," Eisenstaedt

said. "He carried only a flashbulb."26

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is said to

have carried her cameras.

"This story has circulated so many times, I think

there's an ounce of truth to it," Karas said.27

Pollard noted that much of Bourke-White's mode of oper-

ation was uniquely Bourke-White.

"Many photographers would show off. Bourke-White never

did that. It was, 'I've got to get that picture, and this

son of a bitch is going to do what I want --.move that plane,

move that building, set fire to something -- but it wasn't

to make her a big shot. It was to get the picture;-that's

all she wanted. She was single-minded, stubborn, irascible,

tough, oh God, she was tough," Pollard said.28

"Every ounce of energy and charm and drive and bitchi-

ness that she had was directed to get a good picture,"

Pollard said.29

Karas remembered, "She'd enter the room and the room

was all filled with Bourke-White. She'd start to talk to

someone and all of a sudden you found yourself helping her

set up lights or saying, 'Miss Bourke-White, do you want

your bag put over here? She was that kind of gal."

How did she draw people into her service?

"She never came across as being a weak fragile person.

She was strong-willed, strong minded, but she somehow got

people to doing things for her that you found yourself

doing them and you didn't quite know why you did them. She

didn't ask you to, and didn't talk you into it. But she

came across as that type of person," Karas explained.30

Asked why people did Bourke-White's bidding, Mrs.

Sargent said, "She wasn't the kind of person you said.'no'

to. And she could turn on the charm, just like turning on

an electric light switch."31

Mrs. Sargent's husband Paul explained, "She was one

of those people who could get across the idea, 'I'm

working awfully hard so you.should work hard and we'll both

work hard together, and let's see what we accomplish.'"32

Pollard said people cooperated because, "there are

some people so dynamic and tough that it's easier to do it

than argue with them. She never took 'no' for an answer.

She wouldn't even listen to you when you said 'no.' If

you said, 'Maggie, I can't do that because I'm going away

on a Time cover story,' she would not listen. She would

say, 'Have the two horses there.'"33

Some sources believe she got cooperation partly or

wholly because she was a woman -- that a man would not

have received special privileges and so much attention.

Fenn said, "She was a first-class photojournalist.

But she took advantage of her femininity to get things

done that would have been more difficult for Eisie and


Eisenstaedt added, "She comes to General Spaatz, she's

elegant, and they offer her, 'Do you want a plane, two

planes, five planes?' She had them. She had only to say


"She had special treatment because she was a woman and

she knew the generals. I don't know if she had affairs

with them -- probably," he volunteered.35

Paul Sargent said she was known in Africa as "the

colonel's mattress.36 And Mrs. Sargent recalled this


"When Bourke-White got home from a trip, she brought

her equipment to the lab. We had a little office in the

back of the photo lab in the old days when the lab was

not in the Time-Life Building. She left the equipment for

the boys to unpack. One of the young kids -- maybe all

of 17 or 18 -- pulled out dirty boots with mud on them,

and dirty underwear tucked in around things. Finally he me and he said, 'Hey, Peg, what kind of lens

cap is this?'

"He was holding a diaphragm."37

But the Sargents said Bourke-White seemingly did not

get involved with co-workers at LIFE, and Pollard said she

did not use sex per se to get ahead as some LIFE photographers


Pollard said, "If she walked into General Clark in the

Fifth Army and wanted certain privileges, there's absolutely

no question that being Margaret Bourke-White, LIFE magazine's

highest paid photographer and being an attractive woman and celebrity, they'll help her.

"But she got to be these things -on her own. Nobody

helped her when she was getting to be these things."

And just how and why she attained such stature puzzles


"Where did she come from? How did this particular

person come out of this, particular environment and become

the most' famous .LIFE P.tograher who happened to be a

woman?: From did she.* cme?. She didn't come

from any school. She did it entirely on her own," he


Pollard said approximately half his staff, including

Eisenstaedt came from middle Europe and Germany to escape

Naziism. They were photographers when they came, since

Europe had picture magazines before America did.

Pollard said.LIFE had ten men from the Milwaukee

Journal which was strong in photography. A large group of

photographers grew out of Roy Stryker's Farm Security

Administration group. In addition, Pollard hired 13 photo-

graphers from Freemont High School in Los Angeles.

"Bourke-White had nothing to do with any of those.

She was an anomaly," Pollard said. "She came out of

nothing so she's unique." He believes she rose through

"damn hard work."30

Weimer thinks she capitalized on being a woman, and

that editors took advantage of the fact that she was unique.

"I believe that people stopped to look at what she'd

done, maybe to some degree, because she was a woman. They

probably knew she was in a man's world, and they would give

her credit for outdoing them in many respects, which she

did. "40

"Time, Incorporated, itself is a very man's-oriented

organization and always has been," Fenn explained. "Women

have never had great opportunities here. The greatest

compliment that you could pay to a woman here is that after

a while she proved herself and we treated her as an equal.

But that already is a piece of chauvinism. You did not

accept her as an equal on the basis of meeting her, as you

would another man.

"She made her mark in a place like this, in a highly

competitive field and it's to her genius that she wasn't

the first photographer hired by the magazine, but made the

first cover She was living in a man's world with

man's prejudices," Fenn said.4

Zalon quoted someone as having said Bourke-White had a

man's heart in a woman's body.42

Bob East, a Mimai Herald photographer who met her in

the late 1940s on an assignment in Oklahoma, said he was

shocked that she was authoritative and "a handler." Having

seen her exquisite photos, he had expected someone "tender

and feminine," he said.43

It is likely she succeeded because of and in spite of

being a woman. It is likely she figuratively opened doors

not only for women photographers but.also for womankind in

general. However, Peggy Sargent said Bourke-White did not

particularly like women. She rejected the traditional female

role, was a "personal slob," and was uninterested in house-

cleaning, Mrs. Sargent said. But sources indicate it is

unlikely she would have had anything to do with the women's

liberation movement today.

It is impossible, to an extent, to sort out what per-

sonality traits were Bourke-White's and what behavior was

simply a manifestation of the profession of photojournalism.

In order to view her fairly and understand her more fully,

the profession must be somewhat understood.

"Photographers are a funny bunch," Pollard explained.

"They're all insecure and single-minded; it wasn't just

Bourke-White. It's a very competitive business. The tech-

nical part of photography always gives you a 10 per cent

chance of something going wrong.

"If they can press that button at a certain given time,

and the sun's setting and film's running through the camera,

they've got a prize-winning picture and a raise from LIFE.

There's a hell of a lot at stake. .

"Photographers are thinking about themselves, and also,

they're stars. Being a LIFE photographer in the 30s, 40s,

50s and 60s was a great big thing. Quite apart from that,

they were being paid triple what newspaper photographers

were getting They're celebrities, making .a lot of

money, living-it up and everywhere they go -- it's like

a TV camera today --.people drop dead all over the place.

You're on the masthead of the most famous magazine of all

time, and you want to stay there so you get very competitive.

"But I've never known Maggie to do a mean thing to a

person personally. She was way above that. She wouldn't

hurt another photographer. In the back of her mind she

might say, 'I'm going to be better than Eisenstaedt; I'm

going .to be better than Mydans.' But she wouldn't do like

some of the other photographers and put sand in somebody's

Rolliflex. Maggie probably would not even think of something

like that. She was too busy.

"One guy was going to shoot another guy. It's a tough


"If she would phone someone and tell them I'm no good

and try to get me fired, that's offending somebody. But

to try to get you to work on her story, carry her cameras

or putting those two goddam horses down there -- that's

part of her job. I tried to avoid her because it was

unpleasant, but it didn't offend me as a journalist,"

Pollard explained.

In saying that she did not push people around just for

the fun of pushing them around, he used a baseball analogy.

"If you're sliding into second base to avoid getting

tagged out, you slide in hard, but you're trying to get to

second base. You're not trying to injure the second base-

man. "

He said LIFE was arrogant and Bourke-White was arrogant

but that Eliot Elisofon was more so.

"He was terribly arrogant. On stories, if you think

Maggie was up, you ought to have seen old Eliot. He was

a showman."44

Eisenstaedt, as well, volunteered, "Eliot Elisofon

spoke only of himself. He never thinks of other people.

People always ask me if Margaret Bourke-White was not liked

by her colleagues. They didn't know her."45 Paul and

Peggy Sargent said there were photojournalists "much

worse" than Bourke-White.

Pollard said another characteristic of photographers

in general is that they tend to be very critical of their

rivals, "but Maggie was just ecstatic when she saw some

other photographer doing great work. She wasn't nitpicky

about that. One photographer would say, 'That guy really

laid an egg on that story.' Maggie would never do that.

"I'd bring some young kid up there (to Connecticut)

and he'd show her some pictures he was shooting, and she.

was so nice about it. He couldn't hear what she was saying,

but just with her eyes.

"Her voice gave out and her hands gave out, but her

eyes never did. My God, what excitement. I took her

Lennart Nilsson's famous story on the birth of a baby. My

God, I thought she'd die."46

Not only must Bourke-White be viewed in relation to

the photojournalistic profession, but also she must be

studied in relation to the era in which she worked. In

one sense she was a product of her time, and in other ways

she seemed to be ahead of her time. She did lag in one

aspect, in that she did not begin using 35mm cameras until

the Korean conflict. But, as previously discussed, perhaps

she had calculated reasons for maintaining the bulky cameras.

Her era was a pre-television era and still photography

was just coming into its own. Fenn claims photojournalism

was a one-generation profession--from the 40s to the 60s.

Values were different then, in society and in photography.

Just as clothing and music styles have changed, photographic

styles have changed. Much work is done in the darkroom,

as Eisenstaedt intimated, "sandwiched, and blue and green,

and so forth."47

Margaret Bourke-White took her time in composing and

shooting photos, and the world itself moved at a much

slower pace. Eisenstaedt posed an example of the compari-

son in pace between then and now. If an earthquake would

occur in Asia, 20 years ago the editors would have gone

to lunch and had three martinis in deciding what photographer

to send, he said.

It would be at least the next day before the photographer

would leave. Then at least ten days would elapse before

the magazine would get the pictures back, and it would be

at least two weeks before they would be published. Today,

he noted, pictures can be flashed around the world within

an hour via satellite.

Furthermore, the market or the outlet does not exist

today for photojournalists' work, especially for Bourke-

White's type of photos. There exists less exposure for

photographers' work. .Morse suggested she might have

succeeded today on National Geographic. The photographers

also noted that more specialization exists today.

In addition, they indicated competition in their field

is even more fierce today, whereas in the 30s, it was a

wide open field. And it was a time before women's liber-

ation so Bourke-White was much more visible and more of a

curiosity than she would be today.

Photo technician John Antico noted that times have

changed so drastically, and that lenses and other equipment

have been so vastly improved in the past 20 years, that

comparisons are impossible. She worked in an era before

flash guns and range finders.

"In my opinion, you needed more skill in her time than

today," Antico said. "Cameras do your thinking for you

today. In those days, you know photography more

thoroughly than today."

It is pure speculation to ponder whether she would

have been the Queen Bee photojournalist today.

Pollard thinks not.

"Like so many photographers, it's photography plus

recognition," he said. "She liked publication and being

a celebrity."

He contrasted her with Edward Weston, who led a "very

very simple life and probably did not make $3,000 a year.

We tried to get Edward Weston to shoot for us; but he wants

to stay in Carmel and shoot reeds and little things.

"For Maggie, it was photography at exactly the right

time, the mid-30S with FORTUNE coming along, LIFE starting.

She was the highest paid photographer on the staff. She

had the first cover on LIFE, the first essay in LIFE, the

war thing,'the Gandhi thing, and she went from one great

story to another.

"Let's say LIFE magazine had not come along. Would

Maggie have gone to live on three grand a year and shot

beautiful pictures for the posterity of photography?

"She never would have done it. No, sir.

"And Maggie wouldn't say, 'I'm going to give this

all up and go make two or three grand a year to shoot

things that I really feel deeply about.'

"I think Bourke-White might have been a president

of General Motors.

"She could have been in many other professions and

gone right to the top. She could have been a politician.

She wouldn't let things stand in her way. She was No. 1.

Bourke-White would have been kind of rough and she would

have kicked a few people around, but she would have got


"Photography per se is not what motivated her. It

was photography in that era which made her the Number One

Glamour Girl."49

While she was a product of her era, she was in several

ways ahead of her time. She overshot, but sources indicate

today she might be one of many. She rejected the traditional

domestic housebound role relegated to women. She was

scorned and laughed at for wearing slacks in the 20s and

30s -- long before such clothing was considered acceptable

attire for ladies.

"We all thought it was gauche and unattractive,"

Pollard remembers.

Most importantly, she was a leader and a style-setter

in photojournalism. Although society glorified the


machine in the 30s, she proved that industry could be

artistically beautiful. As a pace-setter, she had few

precedents. She set a new standard for the photograph.


Interview with Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time, Inc., New
York, New York, 15 December 1975.

Interview with Jules Zalon, Time, Inc., New York,
New York, 15 December 1975.

Interview with Rae O. Weimer, Gainesville, Florida,
12 December 1975.

Telephone interview with John Pierotti, New York,
New York, 16 December 1975.

5Interview with Peggy Smith Sargent, Woodbury, Connecticut,
17 December 1975.

Interview with Albert Fenn, Time, Inc., New York, New
York, 15 December 1975.

Interview with Ralph Morse, Time, Inc., New York, New
York, 15 December 1975.

Zalon interview.

Interview with George Karas, Time, Inc., New York, New
York, 15 December 1975.

0Zalon interview.

S1ean Callahan, ed., the photographs of Margaret Bourke-
White (New York: New York Graphic Society, 1972), p. 202.

Zalon interview..

1Karas interview.

14Morse interview.
Morse interview.

Interview with Dick Pollard, Time, Inc., New York,
New York, 16 December 1975.

16Weimer interview.

Peggy Sargent interview.

1Fenn interview.

Pollard interview.

2Telephone interview with Ray Mackland, Washington,
D.C., 18 December 1975.

2Fenn interview.

Pollard interview.

23Peggy Sargent interview.

24Pollard interview.

Zalon interview.

2Eisenstaedt interview.

2Karas interview.

28ollard interview.


3Karas interview.

31Peggy Sargent interview.

Interview with Paul Sargent, Woodbury, Connecticut,
17 December 1975.

33Pollard interview.

34 n interview.
Fenn interview.

3Eisenstaedt interview.

36aul Sargent interview.

Peggy Sargent interview.

38Pollard interview.


Weimer interview.

4Fenn interview.

Zalon interview.

4Telephone interview with Bob East, Miami, Florida,
10 December 1975.

44Pollard interview.

4Eisenstaedt interview.

Pollard interview.

4Eisenstaedt interview.

48Interview with John Antico, Time, Inc., New York,
New York, 15 December 1975.

49ollard interview.
Pollard interview.


Her Courage and Determination

Margaret Bourke-White's success and fame seem to have

been the result of a combination of factors -- not the least

of which was her courage.

Those interviewed agreed it was one of her most notable

characteristics -- during her professional years and during

the 19 years she fought the encroachment of Parkinsonism.

One late fall day an ill Bourke-White was visited at

her Darien, Connecticut, home by Paul and Peggy Sargent.

As they left at dusk, the Sargents recall, Bourke-White

asked to ride with them for three miles -- at which point

she would get out to walk back to her house. Exercise

was intended to fight off the creeping rigidity of the


Bourke-White took a big stick with her because she

feared the dogs that followed her on that road.

"She got out. She turned and started back at dusk --

this sturdy figure in slacks with this stick, determined

she was going to walk those miles," Peggy Sargent said.

"We sat there in the car and watched her until she was

out of sight and Paul said, 'Do you think we ought to follow

her back?' He was so worried about leaving her at that


Her Courage and Determination

Margaret Bourke-White's success and fame seem to have

been the result of a combination of factors -- not the least

of which was her courage.

Those interviewed agreed it was one of her most notable

characteristics -- during her professional years and during

the 19 years she fought the encroachment of Parkinsonism.

One late fall day an ill Bourke-White was visited at

her Darien, Connecticut, home by Paul and Peggy Sargent.

As they left at dusk, the Sargents recall, Bourke-White

asked to ride with them for three miles -- at which point

she would get out to walk back to her house. Exercise

was intended to fight off the creeping rigidity of the


Bourke-White took a big stick with her because she

feared the dogs that followed her on that road.

"She got out. She turned and started back at dusk --

this sturdy figure in slacks with this stick, determined

she was going to walk those miles," Peggy Sargent said.

"We sat there in the car and watched her until she was

out of sight and Paul said, 'Do you think we ought to follow

her back?' He was so worried about leaving her at that

time of day. I said, 'Well, this was what she wanted to


Mackland, who had met Bourke-White in 1942, said his

most vivid memory of her was her "courage after she became

ill She had a lot of guts."2

Remembering her bombing mission pictures, Pollard

described her as "absolutely fearless," but he pondered

whether the trait was courage or something else.

"Larry Burrows was brave. I couldn't tell with either

one of them whether it was raw ambition, which both of them

had an enormous amount of, or whether it was shutting out

danger because they were concentrating on a story. Burrows

was very war wise. Eugene Smith went out and got himself


"Both Bourke-White and Larry would never think of the

danger inherent in going up in a helicopter with people

shooting at you. Was that bravery?

"I can tell you some famous photographers who are

supposed to be war journalists who are terrified of going

out, and I don't blame them.

"Bourke-White had a way of blocking out these things."3

Her propensity for hard work and her determination in

getting a picture manifested themselves in behavior that

lacked consideration for others.

Pollard recalls a time when he was head of the bureau

in San Francisco and Bourke-White arrived on a weekend.

"You wouldn't avoid her, but you'd make it tough for

her to find you -- and she always would find you. She would

keep making calls until she.gets you.

"She found me while I was playing golf .. She

doesn't give a goddam if I'm trying to get a half day off.

Once she gets-you on the phone, you're dead," Pollard said.

Bourke-White was to take a photo from a helicopter,

and needed two horses on the ground, apparently to add

scale to a panoramic view. So it became Pollard's duty

to locate a stable and get the horses in the right place.

He thought he had succeeded in placing the horses so he

found a phone to call her in the helicopter.

"She's real nasty," he recalled. "She says, 'That

isn't where I wanted them at all,' and she doesn't give

a damn about your feelings Then I had to turn the

horses around, with the riders you don't know from Adam. .

it imposed on people," Pollard said. "You're probably

paying for the horses but nothing else.

"It's Saturday afternoon and you're moving horses up

and down but it improved the picture enormously,"

he concluded.

Pollard explained, "If I would be working a story

with her, that's normally what I would do -- but to have

her drift into town. In the first place, you've got

four or five other photographers working -- and that's

something she couldn't care less about.

"She's numero uno."4

Mrs. Sargent said Bourke-White used people, but that

she didn't think Bourke-White realized it.

While Bourke-White and-Erskine Caldwell were on their

Hawaiian honeymoon, Peggy Sargent went to their Darien home

weekly to check their mail. Mrs. Sargent got a cable

asking her to find their new license plates, put them on

their car, and drive it to meet their plane at Newark.

She got lost at the end of the Holland tunnel but

finally, at about 10 o'clock on a rainy night, she met

their plane.

"All the press was there to greet them., Although

this was a known relationship, it was the first time it

was a legal one," Mrs. Sargent said.

"Everybody finally vanished. They came over to me

and said, 'We're so tired and it's so late; do you mind

if we drive straight home to Darien. We're sure you can

get back to the city some way.' And they walked off and

left me there at Newark Airport at ten at night. All

the taxis had vanished in the rain.

"That was the kind of thing that they would do without

any thought at all," she said.. "It never entered their

heads that they were leaving me stranded."

Another time, Bourke-White was on assignment and

flew into New York from Canada to change planes. Mrs.

Sargent said Bourke-White called her at 1 o'clock in the

morning to chat.

Mackland described Bourke-White as "not the model of

patience and complete understanding," but he added that

she was somewhat misunderstood. She was widely considered

arrogant, bossy and demanding, he said. But he saw another

side to her as well.

He first got to know her while he was running LIFE's

Washington office, he said. Photographers came to town

for military clearance.

"Peggy came on pretty strong," he recalled. "You

sort of had the feeling that when she walked in that

everybody was supposed to salute -- and that she didn't

mind taking up the time of everybody in the office to get

done what she wanted.

"I think she had made the remark that somebody wasn't

helping her enough or something," so he called her in his


"I said, 'Did it ever occur to you that you're always

demanding things and that you're not giving much yourself?

I'm not even sure you even thank the people enough for

things they do for you.'"

Mackland remembered, "It was amazing to me. Not only

did she accept it, she sort of acted as if nobody had ever

quite told her this before. She was not at all angry or

irritated. She was responsive and seemed interested as

though she had never thought of it this way."

Shortly thereafter he received one of her books,

inscribed, "To Ray, for some wise words."5 There are no

indications that her behavior changed, however.

Michael J. Arlen, a former LIFE writer, compared her

to a movie director.

"You stay unit you get it done right, while the cast

curses the director. The 35th take, you get it right.

You need to be a little egomanic to do that," Arlen said.

He had been on assignment with her 25 years ago, and

he remembers their discussions. They talked about India

and Russia among other things.

"I was 22 or 23 years old and we would talk about me,

which was very clever of her," he said. They discussed

music as well. "She was passionately involved in music.

She cared deeply about music and knew a number of musicians,"

he said.6

And throughout her life, she was addicted to nature.

Stories of her praying mantises are legendary. Karas

chuckled as he recalled the time Bourke-White was raising

the mantises in the old lab at 38 W. 48th St.

"This was not an air conditioned lab, and it got quite

hot at night, especially during the summer. I was on night

shift usually alone, sometimes with somebody else.

"One of these winged monsters would come flying around

the dark at you, and scare the livin' devil out of you,

honestly. But she was Miss Bourke-White and you kind of

didn't want to say, 'Get these damn.things outta here.'

Finally we told her we were frightened of these things

crawling up your back in the middle of the night, especially

in the dark where you can't see the damned things."7


Although her interests ranged from insects to music

to world affairs, she had little time for recreation.

"She had these praying-mantises. .and a couple of

husbands I'm sure.she had boyfriends. I'll guarantee

you they came after the work. Work came first," Pollard


The two husbands were Everett Chapman whom Bourke-

White divorced in the late 1920s and Erskine Caldwell who

divorced Bourke-White in 1942. They had married in 1939.

"I think she tried very hard to make that marriage a

success," Peggy Sargent said, "and I think he was the one

who couldn't accept her work and her independence. It

was very sad. I think she really loved Erskine Cald-

well. .

"He always wanted to marry the women he had affairs

with; he and Bourke-White were having a pretty good affair

for a year or more, and he was the one that insisted they

get married. 'She didn't want to get married. She said,

'This is a very good arrangement we have and I like it and

why should we spoil it by getting married?' He was the one

that insisted upon getting married.

"And then when he picked.up with' this girl, he cables

Bourke-White and says, 'I have met so-and-so, and if you

don't mind I'm going to Mexico to get a divorce.'

"Someone in Englandat that time said she was terribly

upset about it. He meant a great deal to her,-".Mrs.

Sargent recalled.

"Margaret Bourke-White was really married to photo-

graphy," Eisenstaedt said.10

When she did put down her cameras, Pollard said, she

was "marvelous company witty and attractive," and

"the charmer of all time.

"When she put on a nice dress and calmed down, she

was just great company."ll

However, she seldom put down the cameras. Fenn said

she was not chummy; Eisenstaedt said she did not socialize,

and Pollard said she did not mix with the LIFE family,

that she was not,snobbish, just too busy.

Mrs. Sargent said when Bourke-White returned from Korea

and it was ascertained that she was ill, one of the assis-

tant managing editors asked Mrs. Sargent if she could get

in touch with Bourke-White's friends.

"Do you know anybody?" he had asked.

"Suddenly I realized," Mrs. Sargent said, "that she

had sort of used her friends. She had never given enough

of herself personally to have any close friends. She was

too busy on a career to make the kind of friendships that

come through in a bad personal period.

"She had loads of acquaintenances and loads of super-

ficial friends, but not the personal friends that you

just call up and gossip with or that sort of thing. Her

career had left her really friendless in that intimate way."12

Not only did she lack close friends, but she had


"Many many people didn't like Maggie worth a damn,"

Pollard said. "She was a single-minded tough dame."13

Eisenstaedt described her as authoritarian and domin-

eering. Paul Sargent said she was an "egotistical wench"

with a strong jaw and snake eyes.

He said, "She kind of fixed you with her eyes the

same way a missionary would fix a savage: 'What can I

do with this guy?'"14

Several sources described Bourke-White as attractive

or beautiful. Sometimes she was compared to Clare Booth

Luce in appearance, especially in that they both had straight

dark eyebrows. The two women did not like each other.

Karas remembered Bourke-White's apparel -- her "bright

red riding hood suit" and her "silvery purple hair."15

Pollard said she always managed to come up with "practical


She shopped at Bonwits and had expensive tastes.

Sources believe she would not have liked LIFE in its last

days when, after Henry Luce died, money did not flow as


When Bourke-White joined LIFE in 1936 she received

an annual salary of $12,000. Long before she.was ill,

she had taken a half salary to work part-time. Then, ten

years before LIFE died, Pollard became director of photo-

graphy and looked over his budget to discover she was being

paid $20,000 a year as a half-time worker although she

was ill and not working. In addition, she was on

amortization, at $3,000 a year to use for camera equipment --

out of which she ordered a new zoom lens to try when they

first came out.

About his second year in the job, he said, he put through

a raise for her, soon after which he received a call from

the head bookkeeper upstairs.

"What do you mean by giving Margaret Bourke-White a

raise? When did she shoot her last picture?" the bookkeeper

asked. Bourke-White had not been with LIFE for three or

four years since, by that time, she was quite ill. The

bookkeeper said Bourke-White had not done anything, to which

Pollard replied, "She's already done it. Give her the


When Bourke-White reached age 65, she was officially

retired and taken off the masthead. Pollard said it was

a "company decision" and Luce himself went off. The one

person in the history of the company that has been kept

on beyond age 65 is Eisenstaedt, Pollard said. Eisenstaedt

was nearly retired at 65, until Luce said to managing editor

George P. Hunt, "You can't do that to Eisie!"

"They didn't make an exception for Maggie," Pollard

notes. "Of course she wasn't working." He said she did

not have money problems.17

Financial security was a change from the early struggling

days of the Bourke-White Studio, before she went to LIFE.

Mrs. Sargent, Bourke-White's office manager and personal

errand runner at the time, said the early days were "dreadful

financially." Instead of taking out a loan to cover all

her expenses, Bourke-White went into debt with "everybody -

the decorator, the furniture people. .

One day a process server arrived on the doorstep.

Mrs. Sargent called Bourke-White at home so she didn't

come in, and he sat there all day. Bourke-White would

call every hour to ask if the process server were still

there, until Mrs. Sargent got rid of him.

"We were so broke," Mrs. Sargent remembered, "that I

went on vacation and had to wait for a post card from

Oscar Graubner (the darkroom technician), saying there

was enough money in the bank to-cash my check." Bourke-

White's charge accounts were closed.18

In order to get a weekly income to pay Mrs. Sargent

$25 a week and Graubner $45 a week, Bourke-White signed

a contract with the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA).

At that time, Bourke-White had made two trips to Russia

and was fascinated by anything Russian. Bourke-White never

joined any parties, Mrs. Sargent said, but she was very

interested in the striking Vermont marble workers, and had

some left-leaning friends.

Earl Browder was running for the presidency on the

Communist Party ticket, and some of Bourke-White's leftish

friends asked her to take Browder's portrait to be used for

publicity purposes. She took the photos and then left with

Erskine Caldwell to tour the Deep South to collect pictures

and information for their book, You Have Seen Their Faces.

Graubner produced the prints of Browder and an office

boy automatically stamped on the back: Photo by Margaret

Bourke-White. The next morning the front page of the New

York Times carried a pciture of Browder with a credit line

for Bourke-White.

NEA president Fred Ferguson telephoned Mrs. Sargent at

the Bourke-White Studio.

"What in God's name did Margaret Bourke-White mean

by taking a picture for the Communist Party?" Ferguson

raged. She had a contract with NEA.

Later when Bourke-White called in and Mrs. Sargent

related Ferguson's anger, Bourke-White instructed Mrs.

Sargent to call Ferguson and tell him Bourke-White had

told Mrs. Sargent that those pictures were to go out

unstamped, that Bourke-White had taken the picture as a

favor for Browder.

"I know it wasn't your fault," Bourke-White told Mrs.

Sargent, "but just keep telling him it was your fault,

that it was an accident. Try to make peace because we're

living on that $100 a week."

Mrs. Sargent was furious but she called Ferguson and

tried to feed him the story, but he said Bourke-White had

broken the contract, and he didn't care if she did anything

for NEA again.

"We were just sick," Mrs. Sargent remembered. "Here

she was down South falling in love with Erskine Caldwell,

and I wondered, 'What's going to happen to-us?'"

Who should walk into the office but Ralph Ingersoll,

who had been Bourke-White's boss at FORTUNE. He said he

wanted to get in touch with.Bourke-White about a magazine

he was trying to get started.

"I think she's just what we need for LIFE."

If NEA had not broken that contract over the Browder

picture, Bourke-White could not have accepted the LIFE offer

because the NEA contract had a year to run.

"She had wonderful turns of luck like that so much,"

Mrs. Sargent said. "She always managed to know the right

people, and somehow there was always someone who came


Bourke-White's luck did not hold up in the early 50s

when she was stricken with Parkinson's disease, although

she.considered herself fortunate that a brain operation had

been developed to cure her tremors.

People had always laughed at her and put her down

behind her back. After she returned from Korea, it was

some time before people realized what was wrong. People

in the office thought she had had a nervous breakdown.

They were snickering, "She's nutty as a fruitcake."

Finally someone realized she was a sick woman.

Her Illness

The LIFE people watched the disease progress since she

continued to attend LIFE parties. Once Mackland tied her

shoes. He and Pollard would take a turn at cutting her

meat and managing editor'Ed Thompson would feed her.

She shuffled instead of walked. She could hardly

hear, could hardly talk, and hardly walk, and somebody

would ask her to dance.

"They'd move and then she'd move. It was done

mostly out of an act of graciousness toward her," Fenn

said. "Nobody stared at her."

Karas was among those who would dance with her.

"She had a lot of courage, because that kind of

disease doesn't help anyone's vanity when I'd dance

with her, she'd always say, 'George, let me get started.'

So we'd take a couple of fumbling steps, and once we got

into motion she was fine."

Zalon remembered her dancing with Eisenstaedt once,

although they were never the close friends depicted in the

NBC-TV screenplay, "The Margaret Bourke-White Story."

"Eisie is now living on a reputation of being Bourke-

White's most wonderful friend," Mrs. Sargent said. "He

was never her most wonderful friend." They did not like

each other, the Sargents said.22

Pollard said of the TV show, "Everything about the

story indicated they were terribly close, and Eisie didn't

go back to see her. But that's his nature. He's as single-

minded as Bourke-White and a bit of a miser. I imagine he

thought of how much money it would cost to go up there."23

At the LIFE parties, Peggy Sargent or one of the other

women would put her ear against Bourke-White's mouth and

then tell Pollard what she was saying.

After her operation, Karas said she had tried to

take photos, but she did not have complete control of

the actions of her hands. Her pictures were blurry and

horizons were slanted.

He and Zalon were two sources who indicated they

personally knew only one side of the Bourke-White person-


"She was a very kind gracious woman to the people

that worked in the lab with her. She was just a real

charmer. We in the lab knew her differently than perhaps

some of the top managerial people," Karas said.24

Zalon remembered her as "a warm decent kind person. .

She had very high regard for lab people. She was beholden

to the lab and she knew it. There are a lot of photographers

who are not willing to admit that the lab is a very impor-

tant part of their final success."25

In recalling the progressive illness of the formerly

dynamic communicator, Mrs. Sargent said, "It was as if she

were living in a glass cage."26

Zalon recalled, "She had that blank frightened look

on her face. She was really a pathetic thing, after you

remember how vital and energetic she was."


!Interview with Peggy Smith Sargent, Woodbury, Connec-
ticut, 17 December 1975.

Telephone interview with Ray Mackland, Washington,
D.C., 18 December 1975.

Interview with Dick Pollard, Time, Inc., New York,
New York, 16 December 1975.


Mackland interview.

Telephone interview with Michael J. Arlen, New York,
16 December 1975.

Interview with George Karas, Time, Inc., New York,
New York, 15 December 1975.

Pollard interview.

Peggy Sargent interview.

Interview with Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time, Inc., New
York, New York, 15 December 1975.

Pollard interview.

Peggy Sargent interview.

Pollard interview.

14Interview with Paul Sargent, Woodbury, Connecticut,
17 December 1975.

1Karas interview.

Pollard interview.


Peggy Sargent interview.


Interview with Albert Fenn, Time, Inc., New York,
New York, 15 December 1975.

2Karas interview.

22Paul and Peggy Sargent interviews.

Pollard interview.


1904 Born in New York City

1927 Graduated from Cornell University

1929 Joined FORTUNE

1931 Published Eyes on Russia

1934 Published U.S.S.R. Photographs

1936 Joined LIFE

1937 Published (with Erskine Caldwell) You Have Seen
Their Faces

1939 Published (with Erskine Caldwell) North of the

1941 Published (with Erskine Caldwell) Say, Is This
the U.S.A.

1942 Published Shooting the Russian War

1944 Published They Called It "Purple Heart Valley"

1946 Published Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly

1949 Published Halfway to Freedom

1956 Published (with John LaFarge) A Report of the
American Jesuits

1963 Published Portrait of Myself

1971 Died in Stamford, Connecticut


Lucille Elaine Scott Midcap was born May 22, 1944,

in Brush, Colorado. She graduated from Byers High School

in 1961 and received a Bachelor of Science degree from

Colorado State University in 1965. She is married to

James Thomas Midcap III of Fort Morgan, Colorado.

She has a background in newspaper reporting and

public relations. She taught Basic News Writing at the

University of Florida while she was a graduate student.

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts in Journalism
and Communications.

Harry H. GrIggs, Chairman V V
Professor of Journalism and

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a thesis for the degree of Master of Arts in Journalism
and Communications..


This thesis was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the
College of Journalism and Communications and to the Graduate
Council, and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Journalism
and Communications.
June, 1976

D College o Journalism and

Dean, Graduate School

01-47z- Z"

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