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Margaret Bourke-White

Dam at Fort Peck, Montana
1936, printed c. 1970

Not on view

1936, printed c. 1970


Gelatin silver print

Image: 12 11/16 × 10 7/16in. (32.2 × 26.5 cm) Mount: 19 15/16 × 15 7/8in. (50.6 × 40.3 cm)

Accession number

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

Margaret Bourke-White’s photograph Dam at Fort Peck was reproduced on the cover of the inaugural issue of Life, published on November 23, 1936. Publisher Henry Luce had sent Bourke-White, one of four photojournalists originally hired by the magazine, to shoot a chain of dams being constructed on the Missouri River in northeast Montana under the Public Works Administration agency of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Fort Peck was the highest of these and the world’s largest earth-filled dam. Bourke-White’s image reveals her ability to impart grace and majesty to the bleak, utilitarian forms of industrial architecture. The dam’s massive concrete spillway piers, which stretch to the edges of the image, evoke the soaring walls of ancient monuments, or crenellated castle towers. Bourke-White’s close cropping has them reaching the clouds and dwarfing a pair of human subjects. Luce’s choice of this photograph for his first cover was both canny and strategic: Dam at Fort Peck embodies a machine-age optimism that was likely well-received by a country hobbled by the Great Depression.  



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