Monday, November 22, 2010

Esther Bubley, Photojournalist

Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography,which is open through March 21, 2011 at the Museum of Modern Art, features the work of outstanding female photographers including Diane Arbus, Tina Modotti, Cindy Sherman, Carrie Mae Weems, and Esther Bubley among many others.

Born in 1921 to Jewish immigrants, Bubley became one of the best-known photographers of her time. Her evocative photographs of mid-twentieth century America captured our national identity and influenced popular culture. Movie scholar Paula Rabinowitz claims Bubley’s photographs of women working in factories and offices during World War II contributed to a staple character of the film noir genre, the strong-willed independent woman.

Bubley’s subjects ranged from the ordinary — bus riders, hospital patients, teenagers, boardinghouse residents — to the extraordinary including renowned individuals like Albert Einstein and Marianne Moore. Bubley’s work appeared in Look, Life, and Ladies’ Home Journal. She also worked for the Office of War Information, ultimately spending six weeks on a cross-country tour documenting the American nation at war. In the late 1940s, she photographed Texas oil towns for Standard Oil. Bubley was the first woman to win Photography magazine’s competition for international work.

Since her death in 1998, Bubley’s popularity has continued to grow. Her niece Jean Bubley maintains a website about the photographer. The site features a slide show of Bubley’s work, a video biography, and a calendar of current and upcoming museum exhibitions which include Bubley’s work. For researchers, the site also provides important information about copyright and the use of Bubley’s work in publication.

For more information about Bubley and her work, see Beverly W. Brannan, “Private Eye,” Smithsonian Magazine, March 2004; Amy Pastan, Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Esther Bubley (D. Giles, 2010); Bonnie Yochelson, Esther Bubley: On Assignment (Aperture, 2005). The Library of Congress featured Bubley’s work on its website about female photojournalists.

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