In this brief collection of her earliest work, two art historians present the "unknown" Bourke-White, the young amateur aged eighteen to twenty-six. Her first photographs, created in 1921 under the tutelage of Columbia University's Clarence H. White, were impeccably designed soft-edged still lifes, "painterly" images characteristic of the period but not of the artist. Bourke-White took this technique to college to the University of Michigan and to Cornell and there made traditional portraits of campus buildings and, almost by accident, her first "industrial" photograph, a Duchamp-like study of loudspeakers. After graduation she moved to Cleveland, where, trembling with fear and aesthetic excitement, she photographed the interior of the Otis Steel Mill, the trestles of the High Level Bridge, and the new Terminal Tower. It was these thrilling Cleveland photographs, made in 192830, that won her an audience with Luce, who sent her on to Fortune . . . and to fame.
The eighty photographs reproduced here have seldom been seen outside the archives of Cornell's Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the University of Syracuse Library. They will fascinate anyone interested in the life and work of Margaret Bourke-White and the early history of American photojournalism.