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Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904–1971)
LOT ID: 74480
From Fort Peck Dam photo essay shot for inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine , 1936

Silver Print, gelatin silver print
4.75 х 9 in. (12.06 x 22.86 cm.)
Inscribed, on the reverse in blue grease pencil: "New "Wild West - W.P.A workers at dam project whoop it up" and "Montana Cities Fort Peck." Dated with a purple ink stamp Nov. 20, 1936.
Lot description
This rare and vintage photograph was taken by Margaret Bourke-White during her 1936 documentary on the construction of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). More importantly, it was commissioned for the inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine, which was published on November 23, 1936. For that issue, Bourke-Whites's photo essay on the dam was the cover story.

About the print, it is presumed to be printed by LIFE's photo department in mid November, 1936, prior to the publishing of the legendary magazine. This is because on the reverse, there is a date stamp "November 20, 1936". This predates, by three days, the publishing of that first issue. Due to this date, the only possible source of this print can be the LIFE photo department, as they held the exclusive rights to Bourke-White's photographs. No other publisher would have had access to her negatives or images.

Although this image was not published in that first issue, a similar variant taken a few moments later was included. In the published photo on page 13, the same two door sedan at left center can be seen, as well as the same diagonal shadow at center. Also, the inscription on the reverse of this print is nearly identical to the headlines and text of the LIFE article that reads: “Wild West”.

According to the LIFE article, the name of the town in this photo was called Wheeler, Montana. It was part of a community built around the government owned town of Fort Peck, built in 1934 to house Army Corps of Engineers employees involved in the construction of the dam. Although that town was designed to be temporary, it included an administrative headquarters, hospital, stores, theater, a recreation hall, and other facilities. Totally inadequate to house the 10,000-plus employees, Fort Peck was soon joined by the numerous shanty towns, including Wheeler, New Deal, Delano Heights, and Park Grove.

This photo is printed on medium weight, gelatin silver paper with an egg shell type glossy surface. It looks to be removed from a cotton rag style board mount.

CONDITION: There is a small amount of color shifting or lightening in the center, and lower center portion of the print. There are also two small crazing (crackling) lines in the lower right corner, less than .75 of an inch in length.
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From Fort Peck Dam photo essay shot for inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine by Margaret Bourke-White
  • From Fort Peck Dam photo essay shot for inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine by Margaret Bourke-White
  • From Fort Peck Dam photo essay shot for inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine by Margaret Bourke-White
  • From Fort Peck Dam photo essay shot for inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine by Margaret Bourke-White
  • From Fort Peck Dam photo essay shot for inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine by Margaret Bourke-White
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