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October 01, 2013

Being Margaret Bourke-White, and Sally Matson

MargaretBourke-WhiteMargaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) was a pioneering photographer, a hang-with-the-big-boys righteous babe. Not only did she take amazing photographs throughout the 20th century, but she looks good in one, as the 1943 self-portrait here shows. (Courtesy of the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection.)

No wonder Sally Matson likes playing Bourke-White. And this Wednesday, October 2, she'll do just that at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury.

Matson's one-woman show, titled "Margaret Bourke-White, Courageous Photographer," is part of the Vermont Humanities Council's "First Wednesdays" lecture series. But don't expect some dry, academic lecture. Matson becomes Bourke-White in what VHC calls a "living history" presentation.

She clearly has a yen for scrappy women (and who doesn't, really?): Matson also performs as a godmother of the suffrage movement in a show called "Susan B. Anthony — the Invincible!" 

Bourke-White could claim a lot of firsts: the first female war correspondent and the first allowed on battlefields; the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures inside Soviet factories; the first female photographer for Life magazine (a publication she worked for off and on until her retirement in 1969). And, if not the first photographer to shoot inside an American steel mill, she was an innovative one, developing a technique that could capture the hot colors of the molten steel in its intense heat.

Sally-GandhiBourke-White, born to free-thinking parents in the Bronx, was assertive and adventurous and fearless — qualities that served her well whether she was chronicling midwesterners in the Dust Bowl; piles of dead bodies in World War II; or postwar industrialization in American cities, or in Pakistan and India, where she took pictures of Mohandas Gandhi (Matson, right, holds one of them in her performance).

As the VHC's release describes, Matson will "share her adventures of climbing on skyscrapers, leaning out of airplanes, and going into war zones with an indomitable spirit." 

Bourke-White was, as they say, "ahead of her time," and she continues to inspire. Even in the form of a 21st-century impersonator.

Sally Matson presents "Margaret Bourke-White,  Courageous Photographer" this Wednesday, October 2, 7 p.m. at Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury. The event is free and open to the public. More info at the VHC website.





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