Sunday, February 22, 2009

Margaret Bourke-White

While we're on the subject of Maggie Bourke-White, here are some gallery invites and booklets that accompanied shows of her work.

The first may be from an exhibit held at the George Eastman House in 1956. It doesn't say so, and the copyright is "Time, Inc.", but I've seen references to a booklet produced for the Eastman House show and it's description matches this one exactly.

(10.5 x 7 inches, 8 pages of stiff card, saddle-stiched)

First spread

Second spread

Third spread

Back cover

Bourke-White bequeathed a collection of prints, negatives, and personal papers to the Bird Library at Syracuse University. This next booklet was produced for a show at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse. The images were culled from 2500 negatives in the library's holdings and printed by some of the students in the Photography department.

The first spread is not an optical illusion but is instead a rather significant design flaw. The first page is a half page which obscures some of the text below but not in a way that makes any sense. Type from the half page reads into the text on the next page. (Students, will they never learn?) Furthermore, the headline typeface is too cutesy next to photographs of deprivation and hard work.

Let's digress for a moment and address that photo of Maggie on the second spread where she manages to out-swashbuckle even Robert Capa. This photo reminds me of a Far Side cartoon. The idea of the cartoon was an archeologist's Indiana Jones fantasy: an Australopithecus skull in one hand and a hot babe in the other. In my younger days, I'd look at that photo of her--where you could be forgiven for thinking she had been piloting the plane behind her--and think: yes sir, that's what being a photojournalist is all about. Zipping around the globe from conflict to conflict, bringing the truth back to an eagerly waiting audience and looking great all the way.

Later, I heard Don McCullin talk about his life and that was end of that daydream.

(9.25 x 8 inches, stiff card cover plus 8 pages, saddle-stiched, back cover blank)

First spread

Second spread

Third spread

Fourth spread

Fifth spread

The last ephemeral item I have is a 1975 show announcement from the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery.

Between 1966 and 1979, Schoelkopf's gallery was the only gallery in New York City that showed painting and sculpture with photography as fine art. He represented the work of Brassai and Cartier-Bresson though he was primarily interested in antiquarian photography and the work of 19th and 20th century masters such as Atget, Brady, Watkins, and Cameron.

Schoelkopf's first show of photography was of Walker Evans' work and between 1966 and 1977, the gallery held five solo exhibits of Evans (including one concurrent with the 1971 MoMA retrospective of Evans' work.) Given the economy of the 1970s, by 1979, Schoelkopf decided to more narrowly focus the gallery on painting and sculpture exclusively. He died in 1991.

(8.5 x 11 inch stiff card folded once to produce a 5.5 x 8.5 inch card, back cover blank)


And finally, moving from the ephemeral to the substantive, here is an example of her signature, in this case from a copy of Portrait of Myself.

She started the book in 1955, soon after was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and didn't finished it until 1962. I suspect her pre-Parkinson's signature is bolder but I've not seen one so can't say for certain. The book was published in 1963 and was popular. So popular that it's a very common book. The reproductions in the book are nice. They look like gravures but I don't think they can be. Also, very nice typeface on the cover.

I respect Bourke-White's work and like quite a bit of it. During World War II she was "as close" as Capa or Smith, besides which I think that anyone who covered that war had to be brave or they had to do their reporting from another continent. An excellent overview of her work is the volume UTC published for the 1988 ICP touring show. Gorgeous binding, tipped in photo to the cover, excellent reproductions.

In the same vein (work not production values), I recently saw the powerHouse book of Wayne Miller's work. I was unfamiliar with his work and that was a revelation. Wonderful stuff. His images from aircraft carriers during WWII are very good--a bit heroic at times, but generally gritty and intimate.

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