Lot Details

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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Publication: A similar variant was published in the inaugural Nov. 23, 1936 issue of LIFE Magazine, page 13.
The seller has recorded the following condition for this lot:
Area: Image
Location: Other location
Notes: There is a small amount of color shifting or lightening in the center, and lower center portion of the print.
Degree: Minor
Surface Cracking
Area: Image
Location: Lower right
Notes: There are two small crazing (crackling) lines in the lower right corner, less than .75 of an inch in length.
Degree: Minor

Definition Key
Image The central image area, composition, or focal point; the area inside the margins/plate marks.
Margin Areas bordering the central image, outside the plate marks, or the perimeter area.
Edge The farthest edge of the object.
Verso The reverse/back of the object.

Minor An existing condition which generally does not involve risk of loss.
Moderate Noticeable damage, increasing in severity and/or size; should be monitored or corrected by a conservator.
Major Distinct, recognizable damage; the stability of the work is questionable and risk is a factor. Requires the attention of a conservator.
Extreme Advanced and severe damage; work is insecure and at great risk.

  • This vintage photograph is a variant of one published in the inaugural issue of LIFE Magazine on page 13, November 23, 1936. It shows a view of what was then called Wheeler, Montana and was taken five to ten minutes minutes prior the photo published in LIFE. This is known due to the shadow angles being slightly less deep. Additionally, the same two door sedan appears in both photographs. More, the inscription on the reverse is nearly identical to the story headlines in LIFE that read “Wild West". Bourke-White’s photo essay on the Fort Peck Dam was used as the cover story of that historic issue of LIFE magazine. Concerning for the origin of this print. It was deaccessioned from the archive of the now defunct Field Enterprises photo library of Chicago. As the date stamp one the verso predates the publication of the first issue of LIFE magazine by three days, the only possible source for this print can be LIFE's photo department. LIFE held the exclusive rights to Bourke-White's photographs and no other publisher had access to her negatives or images at that date. As for why this print was made, there is a strong probability it was circulated by Time Inc. to promote the new weekly magazine LIFE prior to the inaugural issue being released.
  • Pickup Location: Japan
  • Shipping Dimensions: 4.75 x 9 in. (12.06 x 22.86 cm.)
Accepted: Wire Transfer
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