Margaret Bourke-White - Photographs New York Wednesday, April 6, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of Edna and Arthur Macmahon, Poughkeepsie, New York
    By gift to John Glasse, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1978
    By descent to the present owner

  • Literature

    Callahan, The Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White, p. 43
    Phillips, Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design 1927-1936, p. 125
    Bulfinch Press, Decade by Decade: Twentieth-Century American Photography From the Collection of the Center for Creative Photography, pl. 59

  • Catalogue Essay

    Taken on assignment for Fortune magazine, Margaret Bourke-White’s study of the George Washington Bridge displays her unique ability to bring avant-garde compositional ideas into the service of photojournalism. By eliminating the horizon and using the deep perspective of the bridge’s cables to emphasize its vast expanse, she created an image that vibrates with the vitality of the new urban environment. In Bourke-White’s handling, the bridge is raised to the level of Modernist icon.

    Bourke-White is one of the photographers directly responsible for creating the modern vocabulary of photojournalism. She lived a life as bold as her pictures, breaking through political, professional, and gender boundaries. She was Fortune magazine’s first staff photographer, and the first Western professional photographer permitted into the Soviet Union. She was also LIFE magazine's first female photographer, and it was a photograph by her that famously appeared on its first cover in 1936. She was the first female war correspondent credentialed to work in combat zones during World War II. In 1930, Bourke-White participated in the Men and Machines exhibition in New York City. It was in reference to that exhibition that Bourke-White predicted that "Any important art coming out of the industrial age will draw inspiration from industry, because industry is alive and vital."

    This photograph comes from the collection of John Glasse (1922-2014), a pioneering collector from the early days of the photography market and a Professor of Religion at Vassar College from 1956 to 1990. Glasse received it as a gift from Edna and Arthur Macmahon in 1978. Edna Macmahon was a professor of Economics at Vassar, and her husband was professor of Government at Columbia University who held a variety of New York City and national governmental positions throughout his career.

    John Glasse was Professor of Religion at Vassar College from 1956 to 1990; philosophy of religion was his academic focus. Glasse maintained a lifelong interest in photography. As a teenager in Alaska in the 1930s, he photographed candid scenes of Juneau’s residents and the Alaskan wilderness and worked as a freelance photographer. During his adult years, he continued photographing and experimenting with different formats and techniques. Glasse began collecting as a young adult and continued to build and rotate his collection through the 1980s, focusing on major Twentieth Century photographers. The work of Paul Strand was a particular interest and Glasse curated an exhibition of Strand’s photographs at the Vassar College Art Gallery in 1977. He enjoyed corresponding with the artists in his collection to learn the background story of specific images and to share his appreciation of their work. In several instances he purchased directly from the photographers, in addition to patronizing the first generation of photography galleries in New York City, including Witkin Gallery and LIGHT.

    While Vassar College offered no formal training in photography during Glasse’s tenure, he served as an advisor to students pursuing independent study projects in the medium. In 1977 he said, "Photography is one of the ways I find myself exploring the world. And by making my own photographs and seeing the work of others, I am exploring the medium itself. In terms of photography qua academic, as a philosopher of religion, I am engaged by the relation between aesthetics and religion. The theology of culture and the philosophy of religion have not been applied to photography. I would like to make a contribution to filling that gap."


The George Washington Bridge

Gelatin silver print.
13 1/2 x 9 in. (34.3 x 22.9 cm)
Credited, titled and dated in an unidentified hand in pencil on the reverse of the mount.

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $47,880

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 6 April 2022