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13 August 2012


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And we're still arguing context to this day...

Margaret Bourke-White was a social activist. She was a member of the American Artists Congress. These artists supported state financial aid for the arts. They fought discrimination against African-American artists. She didn't write the text- that was done by a white male, I think the photographs speak very clearly about what she finds abhorrent. She clearly mocks the white participants at the table by having them eat "negro food" and has two moving pieces about the black woman being the center of kitchen (and thus the center of activity). The TEXT is not hers- so I find your argument invalid. She did a great job of humanizing her subjects and while of course she directed and orchestrated posing - she was brilliant with the messages.

Hello, Jennifer.

Thank you for looking at this piece. If you had read it as well, you would have seen that I make it clear that Bourke-White did not write the text. You would have also seen that I'm quite aware of her political beliefs and activities.

Your most important mistake is to try to read the photos out of context. One context is the magazine itself. In the case of images published in a magazine such as Life, that gives you only a partial understanding of the sense that readers would have made of them. Photos and text reinforce and comment on each other.

A second context is the segregated America of the mid-50s. While I acknowledge that a minority of white readers and most African-Americans would have read the photo-essay critically, for most readers the words and images would have combined to produce a distinctly un-progressive effect.

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