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Margaret Bourke-White and the Realities of Life

The Louisville Flood is a photograph taken in 1937 by the photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. During this time, the United States was facing the biggest economic depression in American history. I think that what Bourke-White was trying to express through this photograph was how ironic life can be. In the photograph you see a long line of people waiting to be given rations of food from the government. This symbolizes poverty. In the background, a billboard that says “World’s highest standard of living,” shows a happy family traveling somewhere. The right side of the billboard says “There’s no way like the American Way.”  

I am assuming that this billboard was put up back in the 1920s when the United States economy was on top and everyone was having a good time. However, after the stocks crashed in 1929, the good times ended, and the Great Depression took place. In the billboard, you can see everyone smiling, but if you compare their happy faces to those of the people in the line, there is a big difference. Everyone in the line seems to be sad and hungry. The expressions on people’s faces tell a lot about the message that Bourke-White was trying to portray.  

Not only does The Louisville Flood teach me about American history, but it also teaches me about how unpredictable life can be. One day you could be the richest person in the world, but a little mistake could change it all. 

I really appreciate Margaret Bourke-White’s photography. I think that her work is really important, both in educating people about what happened in this country during the 1930s, and also educating people about life. The Louisville Flood can make anyone realize that they have to appreciate the things they have right now, because nothing lasts forever.

By Monica

Margaret Bourke-White, The Louisville Flood, 1937  92.58
Margaret Bourke-White, The Louisville Flood, 1937. Gelatin silver print mounted on board, 9 11/16 × 13 3/8 in. (24.6 × 34 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Sean Callahan  92.58
©Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images