“Nothing attracts me like a closed door. I cannot let my camera rest until I have pried it open, and I wanted to be first.”
One of my early female influences was Margaret Bourke-White. Not only did she have characteristics that I wanted to emulate as a photographer, but she also had a few qualities that I most certainly did not want. I learned from both.
I read two books about her life and both were great. One was her autobiography, “Portrait of Myself” and the other was “Margaret Bourke-White, A Biography” by Vicki Goldberg. It was particularly revealing to read both and to see the differences in how events were portrayed. That Margaret glossed over a few things and remembered her treatment of people a little more charitably in her autobiography gives you a clue as to what I was talking about above.
She was courageous, talented, determined, sexy, groundbreaking, and never took no for an answer. She was also single-minded, sometimes selfish, conceited, known to use her sex and tears to get what she wanted and was often rude and difficult to work with.
She was a woman—and a photographer—of firsts. She had the first cover photo of Life Magazine. She was the first female war correspondent (World War II) and among the first to photograph the newly liberated inmates at Buchenwald concentration camp. She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when German forces invaded. She photographed Stalin, Patton, Gandhi, and many other limited-access subjects.
I loved her sense of composition in her early industrial photos, her streak of humanity in her depression series and her grasp of history in her war coverage. It was reading about her life that first brought home to me the difficulties that faced women trying to live the life of a photojournalist. Her solution was to work harder than most of her male colleagues and she never hesitated to use her femininity when she thought it would help her get what she wanted. But she never found a way to have her career and a family life at the same time. She had two brief marriages and no children. She knew herself well enough to choose career over family and never regretted it.
“…I needed an inner serenity as a kind of balance. This was something I could not have if I was torn apart for fear of hurting someone every time an assignment of this kind came up…Dashing off at a moment’s notice around the globe is wonderful if you are doing the dashing yourself. But if you are the one who stays behind, it must be hard to bear.”
Perhaps there would be fewer failed marriages if more people were insightful enough to make this kind of choice. My choice was similar but from an opposing camp. I chose family. That was my highest priority. So instead of covering wars, famine and exotic places, I covered hometown news, college sports, homeless, local politics and once in awhile I got sent to cover a hurricane or some national story in DC. I really can’t complain because there is just as much beauty, drama, emotion and history in local events as there is in international events. It’s just on a smaller scale and the people don’t dress differently and at the end of the day (or couple of days if it’s a big story) I got to go home to my family.