Part Four: Reading photographs Learning log

Assignment 4: “A picture is worth a thousand words”

Background research


gandhi spinning not MBW(Anon, 2017)

  • Born 1869 Mohandras Karamchand Ghandi
  • Middle class family in Gujarat (Westcoast of India).
  • Vaishya Hindu caste, known for being hard bargaining salesmen.
  • 19 years to London trained as a lawyer
  • South Africa, worked as lawyer, 1st experience of colonial racism, campaigned for equal rights for Indians in South Africa, “The Mahatma, whose twinkle of compassion concealed a steely-eyed cunning” (Keay,2010:486)
  • Personal philosophy that God is Truth and anti-materialistic and abstinence values (from Hinduism, Christianity and Jainism). Convinced that any type of physical pleasure was degrading and lived out his idea of “Truth force”, powerful but non-violent argument.
  • 1915 returned to India
  • Campaigned for Indian independence from British rule
  • Confronted the moral behaviour of society, wanted India to move away from western ideals of progress and technology back towards a simple village life. and wished to return India to “godliness, simplicity and humility” (Von Tunzelmann, 2012:27).
  • He was famous for his tactics of passive resistance, civil disobedience, logical non-violent argument. He associated pleasure with self-destruction and lived a life of self-denial and discomfort.
  • He lived modestly in a self-sufficient community wearing the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand-spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and political protest.
  • Adopted hand-spinning on a wooden wheel as a symbol of this simple life “Gandhi’s manner of dress and commitment to hand spinning were essential elements of his philosophy and politics. He chose the traditional loincloth as a rejection of Western culture and a symbolic identification with the poor of India” (Anon, 2017)
  • “Charkha was given a new meaning and novel interpretation by Mahatma Gandhi… To him spinning was like penance or sacrament, a medium for spiritual upliftment, a symbol of dharna, of self-help and self-reliance, of dignity of labour and human values. Besides, it was an emblem of non-violence” (, 2017)
  • He was against industrialisation “Machinery in the past has made us dependent on England, and the only way we can rid ourselves of the dependence is to boycott all goods made by machinery. This is why we have made it the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.” (6(p48)(The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Vol 48 (September 1931–January 1932). Ahmedabad: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India; 1971.(anon2017)
  • Led non-violent protests, such as the 1930 salt marches and fasting to speed political agreements and end religious violence.
  • 1948 assassinated by a Hindi fanatic who thought Gandhi’s methods too passive and compromising


Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017].

Keay, J. (2010). India. London: HarperPress.

Nehru, J. and Khilnani, S. (2004). The discovery of India. Penguin Books; London. (2017). The Tribune…Sunday Reading. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017

Von Tunzelmann, A. (2012). Indian summer. The Secret History of the End of an Empire. Kindle edition. UK. Simon & Schuster ltd.

Margaret Bourke-White                  

116091753.jpg      margaret_bourke-white13       Welding-tire-rims-International-Harvester-Chicago-IL-1933

(, 2017)        (Bourke-White, 2017)      (, 2017)

  • Born 1904 New York
  • Early career industrial advertising and portrait work in Cleveland, wanted to earn enough from architectural photos to pay for her experimental industrial photos. “Her stock trade was a form of modernism, strongly composed but visually simplistic” (Golden, 2013:36).
  • 1929-1936 Chief photographer Fortune business magazine, however 762 job offer from fortune “I was not the least bit interested in photographing political personages” (Bourke-White, 1972:762)
  • 1936-1969 Staff photographer Life magazine: Worldwide photojournalist, covered: most wars, witnessed German invasion of Moscow (1941), accompanied bombing missions (1942), liberations of concentration camps, unrest in South Africa, Gandhi’s fight for Indian independence
  • “The technical side of photography always interested her, and in her books there are many passages on cameras and lighting equipment” (Jeffrey and Kozloff, 2008:102)
  • “Bourke-White had an excellent sense of simple, poster-like design, and a sophisticated photographic technique, both perhaps the legacy of her apprenticeship in the demanding field of industrial reportage. She was excited by the new opportunities presented by photoflash bulbs, which made possible clear and highly detailed pictures under circumstances that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible for photography”. Bourke-White, M. (2017).
  • 1930s social documentary style
  • 1937 “You have seen their faces” book which documented the human aspects of the depression a Collaboration with writer Erskine Caldwell
  • Wrote books on places she’d worked on assignments (Germany, Soviet Union, Italy and India).
  • Autobiography “Portrait of myself” (Bourke-White, 1972)
  • 1957 contracted Parkinson’s and abandoned career
  • 1971 died

Interesting quotes from her biography:

  • “ a man is more than a figure to put into the background of a photograph for scale”…I was learning that to understand another human being you must gain some insight into the conditions which made him what it is” (Bourke-White, 1972:1746)
  • I was awakening to the need of probing and learning, discovering and interpreting. I realized that any photographer who tries to portray human beings in a penetrating way must put more heart and mind into his preparation than will ever show in any photograph” (Bourke-White, 1972:1756)


Bourke-White, M. (2016). Portrait of Myself. Kindle edition. San Francisco, UNITED STATES: Lucknow Books.

Bourke-White, M. (2017). Margaret Bourke-White | ND Magazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017].

Golden, R. (2013). Masters of photography. London: Goodman.

Jeffrey, I. and Kozloff, M. (2008). How to read a photograph. London. Thames and Hudson Ltd. (2017). Master Photographers | Black and White Photojournalists. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2017].

Bourke-White’s relationship with Gandhi

Her first assignment in India in 1946 for Life magazine was to cover the prelude to the partition of India; her stark photographs were taken in the aftermath of the riots, a “first-hand account of India’s struggle for independence in the late 1940s” (Johnson et al., 2005:591)

Then in 1948 post partition of India Bourke-White returned to capture more stories and photographs for Life magazine. “After the war, she documented the final years of Ghandi’s life, producing the iconic image of the proponent of non-violent protests with his spinning wheel” (, 2017a).

She was a friend to Gandhi:

It’s hardly surprising, really, that Bourke-White would be drawn to a figure like Gandhi…Gandhi’s emphasis on liberty and dignity in the face of brutal resistance and oppression spoke directly to her own passion for both justice and adventure”. (, 2017b)

She describes how she was with Gandhi during his last fast and how ten days later she was able to talk with him as he spun, “While frequently I did not agree with Gandhi’s point of view, talking with him helped me understand it” (Margaret Bourke-White, 2016:4015). She said “he was an extraordinary complex person, with many contradictions in his nature” (Bourke-White. 2016:3704)


Johnson, W., Rice, M., Williams, C. and Mulligan, T. (2005). A History of photography. Köln [etc.]: Taschen.

Margaret Bourke-White. (2016). Portrait of Myself. Kindle edition. San Francisco, UNITED STATES: Lucknow Books. (2017a). See the Classic Cameras Used by LIFE’s First Female Staff Photographer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017]. (2017b). Gandhi: Quiet Scenes From a Revolutionary Life. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jun. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.





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