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Margaret Bourke-White

The Louisville Flood
1937, printed c. 1970

Not on view

Date
1937, printed c. 1970

Classification
Photographs

Medium
Gelatin silver print

Dimensions
Image: 9 11/16 × 13 3/8in. (24.6 × 34 cm) Mount (board): 15 15/16 × 19 7/8in. (40.5 × 50.5 cm)

Accession number
92.58

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Sean Callahan

Rights and reproductions
© Estate of Margaret Bourke-White / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

In January 1937, the swollen banks of the Ohio River flooded Louisville, Kentucky, and its surrounding areas. With one hour’s notice, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White caught the next plane to Louisville. She photographed the city from makeshift rafts, recording one of the largest natural disasters in American history for Life magazine, where she was a staff photographer. The Louisville Flood shows African-Americans lined up outside a flood relief agency. In striking contrast to their grim faces, the billboard for the National Association of Manufacturers above them depicts a smiling white family of four riding in a car, under a banner reading “World’s Highest Standard of Living. There’s no way like the American Way.” As a powerful depiction of the gap between the propagandist representation of American life and the economic hardship faced by minorities and the poor, Bourke-White’s image has had a long afterlife in the history of photography.




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