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How did Margaret Bourke-White become the top photographer for Fortune and Life, a globetrotting adventuress who held court in the most glamorous studio on earth--a Chrysler Building penthouse patrolled by alligators, adjacent to the fierce gargoyle she made famous? By first muscling in as a master of the masculine art of corporate photography. For the first time, that early work has gotten its due in Stephen Bennett Phillips' Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design 1927-36. In insightful prose and glossily reproduced black-and-white photos, he opens our eyes to her fast-developing genius. Her 1927 photos of Cleveland's Terminal Tower expertly aped the fuzzy, romantic pictorialism of early Edward Steichen, but her 1928 shot of the same building through the spiral grillwork shows her rigorous sense of composition. After she discovered magnesium lighting, her pictures of what could've been ordinary industrial scenes acquired stunning star power. Rows of tin soup cans, aluminum rods, hogs hanging in a stockyard, Moscow ballet dancers, Wurlitzer organ pipes: she transformed them all into patterns bespeaking brute power. Her camera was a magic device that transformed everything she saw into a shiny Deco masterpiece. This book is as smart and beautiful as its stellar subject. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
Many of Bourke-White's photographs are 20th-century icons of "progress," yet it is still startling to see some of the most famous together: the image of a gargoyle on the Chrysler Building; the silver plane flying over downtown Manhattan; Montana's Fort Peck Dam, as part of her series on the New Deal. This catalogue and concurrent exhibit at the Phillips Collection in Washington displays only Bourke-White's early, technology-based work, before she was a featured photographer for Fortune and Time... read more
Before Margaret Bourke-White became America's first well-known photojournalist, she was photographing the beginnings of Americas machine age, focusing on factories, machinery and the objects this technology produced. These striking images, which transformed prosaic objects into modernist masterpieces-were the foundation for work she later did for Fortune, Life, and other important national magazines. Organized by the Phillips Collection, an exhibition and this accompanying catalogue feature many photographs which have never before been published, and presents new research on the images. An extensive chronology of her career is also provided.