UBS PaineWebber Art Gallery

formerly PaineWebber Art Gallery

New York, NY



Esther Bubley: American Photo-Journalist

July 5 - September 7, 2001


A new photography exhibition presents a definitive survey of the career of Esther Bubley (1921- 1998), a preeminent documentary photographer of the post-World War II era. On view from July 5 - September 7, 2001, Esther Bubley: American Photo-Journalist examines Bubley's work and explores her role in the "golden age" of American photo-journalism from the 1940s to the 1960s, when picture magazines dominated the news and entertainment media. The exhibition will ·feature approximately 135 vintage black-and-white prints from Bubley's estate, as well as six color images recently printed from her original transparencies, presenting a broad spectrum of works spanning Bubley's career as an industrial photographer and a chronicler of everyday life. (left: Rubber Gloves, St. Lukes Hospital, 1951, gelatin silver vintage print, 11 x 14 inches, photograph by Esther Bubley, Courtesy of the Beaux Arts Alliance)

Complementing the display of vintage prints on the gallery walls, Bubley's photo-essays are also presented through the pages of Life, Ladies Home Journal and other popular magazines of the era -- a unique pairing that situates her work in its original context. In the post-World War II era, photographers like Bubley, W. Eugene Smith and Gordon Parks gained renown for their documentary assignments for national magazines, which reached millions of American homes.

Organized by The Beaux Arts Alliance, the exhibition is co-curated by photographic historian Bonnie Yochelson and Alliance Executive Director Sally Forbes, Bubley's professional representative and longtime friend. Infusing the exhibition with both scholarly and personal insights, Yochelson and Forbes present Bubley's career as a freelance photo-journalist for corporations and magazines, examining her signature themes of industry, health and family life.


Chronicling Industry

Esther Bubley landed a job as a darkroom assistant to Roy Stryker at the Office of War Information, and used this position to launch her career. Although she was only 21, she was soon contributing photographs of American life to the OWI files. Following her mentor to Standard Oil of New Jersey, Bubley documented the importance of oil in all facets of life around the world. Bubley's early Standard Oil projects demonstrate her talent in technically challenging conditions. Finding striking modernist patterns in these industrial assignments, Bubley produced graphically complex photographs, such as Gasoline Plant, Tomball, Texas (1945), which depicts an enormous pipeline evocative of a roller coaster in its twisting design.

Bubley documented long-distance bus travel for the OWI, and in 1947 she repeated the assignment for Standard Oil. She photographed many aspects of bus travel, but at the heart of the story was a series on waiting rooms, which showed a cross-section of the American public coping with boredom. Bus Story was published several times and brought Bubley wide praise.

Bubley was hired by Standard Oil and other corporate clients in the 1950s and 1960s to show the positive effects of American industry around the world. Traveling to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Central and South America, Bubley produced unique views of traditional cultures and communities, documenting, for example, street scenes in Brazil and Guatemala for Pepsi-Cola and market day activities in the province of Matera, Italy for Standard Oil.

Exploring Health Issues

Bubley's many stories about health care and mental health reflect the era's faith in new medical technologies and psychiatry. Bubley became the first female recipient of the Photography Magazine grand prize in 1954 for her photographs detailing a UNICEF medical mission's treatment of trachoma, an infectious disease causing blindness, among the desert inhabitants of Morocco. Also on view is Bubley's series of photographs documenting an emergency tracheotomy performed in a vestibule of the Pittsburgh Children's Hospital. Her spontaneous, intimate style caught the attention of Edward Steichen, who featured Bubley's Pittsburgh works in the 1952 Diogenes with a Camera series at the Museum of Modern Art.


Examining Family Life

Bubley worked extensively as a freelance magazine photographer, producing photo-essays for Life and Ladies Home Journal. Bubley's "Backstage with Life" story featured behind-the-scenes views of popular entertainment. Her humorous photograph of an incredibly serious child performer lifting his brother and sister in Strong Man on Grand Chance Roundup (1951) demonstrates her special talent for photographing children. Bubley also produced photo-essays of Amencan families facing both everyday and extraordinary challenges. On view from the popular "How America Lives" series, published in Ladies Home Journal from 1948-1960, is the inspiring tale of the Rood family, who successfully paid off a 40-year farm mortgage in six years. This 1948 photo-essay included scenes from everyday life on the family farm, including Vera Rood bathing her young daughter in a makeshift bathtub in the kitchen, and the elder Rood children performing their daily chores. (above right: Moroccan Girl, 1953, gelatin silver vintage print, 11 x 14 inches, photograph by Esther Bubley, Courtesy of the Beaux Arts Alliance)


The Beaux Arts Alliance

The Beaux Arts Alliance is a not-for-profit organization founded to celebrate the many cultural links between the United States and France. Among its many interests is the connection between French and American architecture in the years between the 1880s and the First World War when Paris' École des Beaux-Arts was the center for aspiring American designers. Led by President David Garrard Lowe, The Beaux Arts Alliance is also interested in the fields of fashion, painting and literature. The Alliance sponsors lectures, walking tours, trips and exhibitions, and is also involved in historic preservation. Esther Bubley produced numerous photographs for the Alliance.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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