Margaret Bourke-White
American, 1904-1971

Self-Portrait, c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
Purchase, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund
Period: 20th c
Classification: Photograph
Dimensions: Image: 12 3/8 x 8 1/2 in. (31.43 x 21.59 cm) Sheet: 17 x 14 in. (43.18 x 35.56 cm) Mount: 20 7/8 x 14 in. (53.02 x 35.56 cm)
Signatures, Inscriptions and Markings v
Inscribed (verso): (Bourke-White stamp)
Published References v
Mundy, James, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center: Vassar College The History and Collection (New York: Prestel Publishing, 2007), p. 113 repr.
Description v
Self-taught and unapologetically ambitious, photojournalist Margaret Bourke- White handled her public image as adeptly as she did a camera. In 1929, with the start of her prominent role at the nascent Fortune magazine, Bourke-White recorded the construction of the Chrysler Building. Falling in love with both the stylish tower and the publicity value it promised, she opened her studio and office there. Here she poses on a sofa in the anteroom of her high-rise quarters, leafing through a portfolio of photographs made on her three voyages (1930–1932) to Soviet Russia. Bourke-White’s charac- teristic air of dashing self-assurance is offset — to a comical degree that may help to explain her smile — by the lace frills on her dress, a feminine (and quite uncharacteristic) touch. That the portrait’s setting helps to convey the sitter’s up-to-the-minute spirit is no accident. Bourke-White had assigned the design and outfitting of her office to her friend John Vassos (1898–1985), an illustrator and industrial designer who enjoyed an unusual command of machine-age elegance. Vassar’s print, in fact, once belonged to Vassos, who owned other Bourke-White photographs illustrating his product designs, including a close-up of the Art Deco clock seen here. This exquisitely made and preserved print provides a perfect case of chicken-and-egg aesthetics: what was, for Vassos, a gratifying document of his design acumen, was for the photographer an ideal image of herself at the top of her game.
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