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Six pioneering women photographers featured in summer exhibition at New-York Historical Society
Margaret Bourke-White, photograph from “Franklin Roosevelt’s Wild West,” LIFE, November 23, 1936 © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation.



NEW YORK, NY.- The New-York Historical Society is presenting the work of six prominent women photographers, whose iconic work for LIFE magazine helped create modern photojournalism as it depicted a quickly-evolving world. On view June 28–October 6, 2019, in the Center for Women’s History’s Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, the exhibition features more than 70 images by Margaret Bourke-White, Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Lisa Larsen, Nina Leen, and Hansel Mieth, who were among the few women photographers employed by LIFE between the late 1930s and the early 1970s. The exhibition was developed in partnership with the LIFE Picture Collection at the Meredith Corporation, who also loaned more than 75 vintage prints and other archival materials for the show.

“These pioneering women photographers captured events international and domestic, wide-ranging and intimate, serious and playful,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “At the forefront of history, these photographers enabled the public ‘to see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events,’ as LIFE founder and editor-in-chief, Henry Luce, described it. We are honored to highlight their work in our Center for Women’s History, where their contributions to photojournalism can shine.”

For decades, Americans saw the world through the lens of the photographers at LIFE, the first magazine in the United States to tell stories with images rather than text. These innovative photo essays became the trademark of the publication. The exhibition provides context to this unique storytelling format through published and unpublished photographs, including vintage prints, copy prints, and contact sheets. Taken together with select items from the Time Inc. records, the photographs show the editing process behind the final, published stories that helped define the United States as a world power during what Luce called the “American Century.” This is the first exhibition to focus on some of the women who worked on staff for LIFE.

Bronx-born Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) worked as a photographer while studying at Columbia University, then opened her own photography studio in Cleveland in 1927. Two years later, Henry Luce hired her to produce photographs for Fortune, and in 1936, he brought her on as one of the first four staff photographers at LIFE. Bourke-White’s image graced the inaugural cover of LIFE on November 23, 1936, which featured the mammoth Fort Peck Dam, a New Deal project in Montana. On view in the exhibition are selections from the photo essay.

St. Louis-born Marie Hansen (1918–1969) joined LIFE as a researcher and became a staff photographer in 1942. She photographed countless Hollywood stars and politicians, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, who selected Hansen’s image of him for his official portrait. On view in the exhibition is Hansen’s photo essay about the newly-formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the new recruits at their training center in Des Moines, Iowa. Hansen’s story helped Americans become accustomed to seeing women in uniform: over the course of the war, 150,000 women joined up and thousands were deployed.

Kentucky-born Martha Holmes (1923–2006) began photographing for LIFE in 1944, and excelled at creating intimate portraits of Hollywood personalities such as Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, and Judy Garland. On view in the exhibition are Holmes’s 1950 photographs of mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine, including one of Eckstine being embraced by a white fan—a provocative image that Holmes felt was one of her best because it “told just what the world should be like.” Luce told her to “Run it.” The story drew vicious letters from the public, and the fallout damaged Eckstine’s career.

Lisa Larsen (ca. 1925–1959) fled Nazi Germany in 1938 after Kristallnacht and came to the U.S., where she worked as a photographer for major publications such as Glamour, Vogue, Parade, and the New York Times. LIFE began publishing her images in 1944, and by 1948, she worked almost exclusively for the magazine, with assignments including the John F. Kennedy–Jacqueline Bouvier wedding. At the height of the Cold War in 1956, LIFE sent Larsen to document the Kremlin visit of Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz (known as Tito) , who came at the invitation of Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On view in the exhibition, Larsen’s published photographs emphasize the official pomp of the occasion while unused images reveal her eye for capturing the intense Soviet effort to put on a good show.

Born in Russia, Nina Leen (ca. 1909–1995) lived in Europe before immigrating to New York City in 1939. LIFE first published her work in 1940, and she continued to photograph for the magazine until it stopped publishing in 1972. Thousands of Leen’s images were printed in LIFE over nearly three decades, depicting everything from fashion to animals in the wild. On view in the exhibition, Leen’s 1947 photographs of the “American Woman’s Dilemma” presented stark options for women that all involved motherhood and housework, a clear attempt at circumscribing women’s choices in the postwar era.

Born Johanna Mieth in Oppelspohm, Germany, Hansel Mieth (1909–1998) changed her name in order to pass as a boy while traveling through Europe with her future husband, Otto Hagel. Mieth joined Hagel in the United States in 1930, and was hired by LIFE in 1937, where she produced socially engaged photo essays over the next seven years. On view in the exhibition is her 1938 photo essay about the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, including images of a summer retreat, which offered a sympathetic view of organized labor during the Depression.

LIFE: Six Women Photographers is curated by Marilyn Satin Kushner, curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections; and Sarah Gordon, curatorial scholar in women’s history, Center for Women’s History; with Erin Levitsky, Ryerson University; and William J. Simmons, Andrew Mellon Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Women’s History. The New-York Historical Society holds the research archive of Time Inc., which was acquired by the Meredith Corporation in 2018.










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