Bourke-White Trivia

Margaret Bourke-White— One of her earliest photographs from 1922

Margaret Bourke-White

Reading Vicki Goldberg’s biography of Bourke-White has been fun. It has answered a lot of trivia questions that don’t really have anything to do with my project, but that are fun nonetheless.

Her hyphenated name is not the result of a marriage. It was a choice on her part to include her mother’s name. Minnie Bourke was the “daughter of a drunken Irish ship’s carpenter and an impoverished English cook” (5). Her father, Joseph White (originally Weiss) was a lapsed Jew who wanted to do his part in “dissipating the race and the idea it stands for satisfied that if there is any special virtue in the race it will find a better field if merged into the American spirit, the American virtue, of the regenerating American type” (5). Her father was a follower of Felix Adler’s teachings on ethical culture.

Interestingly, Joseph White felt that sexual activity without the purpose of procreation was “a criminal act” (6). Her mother kept a diary which included a record of each time they had sex. They had three children, and took advantage of the safe time of pregnancy to have sex a bit more often.

Her name change was probably mostly a business decision. Margaret White was just too plain for a woman who wanted to be famous. She adopted the dual name when she began her professional career in 1927. I found it interesting that she was so fashion conscious that she had her camera dark cloths cut from the same fabric as her dresses. She did not share her father’s attitude about sex. While working for Life, dirty lingerie was often found stuffed in her camera bags, and she startled a technician by leaving her diaphragm in a camera bag. His question was: “What sort of lens-cap is this?”

However, it was really interesting to find that her father held twenty patents on printing press technology, and was the first to develop a Braille printing press in America. Bourke-White’s first book Eyes on Russia is dedicated to him:

In Memory of My Father,
Who Invented Machines
Instead of Photographing Them

I have started a new category to consolidate the Bourke-White posts— many more are sure to follow.

3 thoughts on “Bourke-White Trivia”

  1. Threads II

    Neighborhood items. Steve is back from his travels abroad. Frank Paynter has interviewed Ryan Irelan, including a very nice photo of Ryan and his wife. Jeff Ward started a category for Margaret Bourke-White photos. I am a fan of her work, but if you as…

  2. Hi, I am doing a report on Margaret Bourke-White for my History of Photography class. I chose her “From the Baltic Fleet to the Tractor Mill,” to illustrate my report, which is actually specifically about that piece. I am having a tough time getting a copy of the book. Is there any text which directly relates to that photography? Or any explanation as to why a Baltic Sailor was working in the Tractor Mill? Also….is there anyways you could give me the information for Eyes on Russia in citation form….I mean so that I can list it in my bibliography. I cannot get ahold of the book, but I still plan to cite it. The format would be….
    Auther. Title. Publishing Company. Place of Publication. Year. Etc etc.

  3. I’d love to help, but right now I’m about 750 miles away from my copy of the book.
    It will be next week before I can get back to you.

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