Margaret Bourke-White with camera (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection)

Margaret Bourke-White with camera (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection)

“Photography is a very subtle thing. You must let the camera take you by the hand, as it were, and lead you into your subject.” Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) led the rest of us by the hand on many occasions. In 1929 she did the lead story for the first issue of Fortune, and the next year was the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union. In 1936 she collaborated with future husband Erskine Caldwell on a book documenting the rural poor of the South, You Have Seen Their Faces. Later that year she became—along with Alfred Eisenstaedt, Thomas McAvoy, and Peter Stackpole—one of the four original LIFE photographers, and had the cover shot for the very first issue.

The first LIFE magazine cover, published November 23, 1936. Featuring Ft. Peck Dam in Montana. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

The first LIFE magazine cover, published November 23, 1936. Featuring Ft. Peck Dam in Montana. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

She was America’s first accredited woman photographer in WWII, and the first authorized to fly on a combat mission. She was one of the first to depict the death camps, and later became the last person to interview Gandhi, six hours before he was slain. Her hundreds of thousands of photographs are about adventure, sensitivity, composition, and courage. 

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Birdseye view of near drowning victim Mary Eschner, who is reviving in the center of the crowd, at Coney Island. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Birdseye view of near drowning victim Mary Eschner, who is reviving in the center of the crowd, at Coney Island. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Closeup portrait of an Eskimo child in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Closeup portrait of an Eskimo child in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

African American flood victims lined up to get food and clothing from a Red Cross relief station in front of an ironic billboard extolling, "World's highest standard of living/ there's no way like the American way." (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

African American flood victims lined up to get food and clothing from a Red Cross relief station in front of an ironic billboard extolling, “World’s highest standard of living/ there’s no way like the American way.” (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

Senator John F. Kennedy playing peek-a-boo with his daughter Caroline in her crib. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Edward Clark

Drawing room at Notre-Dame-de-Vie withPortraits of Picasso and wife Jacqueline taken by David Douglas Duncan (Photo by Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

David Douglas Duncan

American sailors on shore leave sit in a pedicab while their buddy takes their picture, Shanghai, China, December 1945. (Photo by George Lacks/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

George Lacks

Prisoners at San Quentin weightlifting in prison yard during recreation period. (Photo by Charles Steinheimer/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Charles Steinheimer

Charlie Chaplin on the set of his film "Limelight," 1952. (Photo by W. Eugene Smith/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

W. Eugene Smith

Soldiers working on a locomotive. (Photo by Myron Davis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Myron Davis