11 Pioneering Women Photographers, from Julia Margaret Cameron to Helen Levitt
From the Catalogue:
“Industry is the true place for art today. Art should express the spirit of the people, and the heart of life today is in the great industrial activities of the country.” Margaret Bourke-White
The image offered here, with its bold diagonals and abstracted patterns of sunlight and shadow, demonstrates Margaret Bourke-White’s ability to incorporate avant-garde compositional ideas into her commercial and editorial work of the 1930s. It was a strategy that distinguished her from her contemporaries and was perfectly suited to the industrial subject matter that was the major focus of her work for Fortune magazine. The present image, likely made at the Rosenbaum Grain Corporation in Chicago, is an exemplary image from this period in Bourke-White’s career.
This impressive exhibition-sized print came originally from the collection of American sculptor Ruth Nickerson Greacen, as did the Bourke-White photograph Cable Spools, offered as lot 46. Both large prints are similarly presented on mounts with calligraphic lettering. Another similarly-presented Bourke-White photograph in the Joy of Giving Something Foundation collection, also with the Greacen provenance and sold at Sotheby’s in 2014, was exhibited by the American Federation of the Arts in the 1930s; it is possible that the two prints offered here were part of that exhibition, as well.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Calligraphically credited in an unidentified hand in pencil on the mount.
Collection of sculptor Ruth N. Greacen, wife of painter Edmund Greacen, New York
William Doyle Galleries, New York, 5 December 1997, lot 294
Margaret Bourke-White is among the foremost photographers of the 20th century, who captured modern industry, the Great Depression, World War II and the concentration camps, and political and social movements from the 1920s to the 1950s in images both elegant and unflinching. “The camera is a remarkable instrument,” she claimed. “Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand.” Bourke-White traveled the world immersing herself with her subjects, beginning in Ohio, in 1927, photographing the Otis Steel Company. Soon after, she was hired as the first staff photographer for Fortune, then the first female photojournalist for LIFE Magazine. In 1930, she was the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union, where she documented industrialization under Communism. Bourke-White left behind a body of images as iconic as the history it conveys.