Portrait of Myself Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

Although not written specifically for young readers, Bourke-White’s Portrait of Myself is valuable to this audience because it provides a positive role model and demonstrates how, with drive and dedication, a woman can achieve a place of enduring fame in a historically male-dominated profession. Aside from keeping her mind off the debilitating disease that had stricken her, documenting this path to her hard-earned success appears to be Bourke-White’s purpose in writing the book.

By being in the right place at the right time, Bourke-White made a career out of a series of “firsts.” For example, during World War II, she covered the German attack on Moscow in 1941 and became the first Army Air Force woman photographer in action in North Africa and Italy. In 1945, attached to General George S. Patton’s Third Army, she was one of the first to enter concentration camps such as Buchenwald; her stark photographs incited worldwide outrage.

While other biographers of Bourke-White have pointed out a number of omissions in the photographer’s portrait of herself—her numerous affairs, her temper, her vengefulness, and her coldness and calculation—Bourke-White’s description of her own life and art stands as a testimony to a woman of remarkable strength and unquestionable talent.