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LIFE: Six Women Photographers

October 6, 2023 - February 3, 2024

LIFE happens. Meet the women who made sure we don't forget it.

The 20th century was defined by change. LIFE Magazine, the first publication to tell stories through images instead of mere text, acted as a window into many historic events for Americans. This exhibition follows the careers of six enterprizing LIFE photographers through the works they created and the stories they captured between the 1930s and 1970s. We invite you to join us for a tour of the social and political dynamics that shaped the American experience during this time through the lenses of Margaret Bourke-White, Hansel Mieth, Marie Hansen, Nina Leen, Martha Holmes, and Lisa Larsen.

The photography showcased by these remarkable women embodies the essence of Henry Luce's visionary concept for LIFE Magazine. In 1936, he articulated the purpose of the magazine:

“To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events..."

Lisa Larsen - Tito as Soviet Hero June 25 1956
Lisa Larsen, unpublished photograph from “Tito as Soviet Hero, How Times Have Changed!” LIFE, June 25, 1956, © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation

" watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud...”

On view in the exhibition are both published and unpublished photos of the Kremlin visit of Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz documented by Lisa Larsen in 1956. These images capture both the decorum of the circumstance and the efforts taken towards maintaining appearances.

6 Marie Hansen - The WAACs Sept 7 1942.JPG
Marie Hansen, "The exercises are designed to foster flexibility and endurance, not bulging muscles," photograph from “The WAACs,” LIFE, September 7, 1942, © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation

“ see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon...”

Marie Hansen’s photo essay covering the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) at their training center in Des Moines, Iowa sheds light on how commonplace war became in the first half of the 20th century.

Margaret Bourke-White, photograph from “Franklin Roosevelt’s Wild West,” LIFE, November 23, 1936. © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation<br>

“ see our work – our paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away...”

Margaret Bourke-White provides intimate details of life in so-called ““Franklin Roosevelt’s Wild West.” From New Deal projects to gatherings of people, her images transport the viewer to this age of American economic depression and the concurrent efforts to alleviate poverty.

American Woman's Dilemma
Nina Leen, unpublished photograph from “American Woman’s Dilemma,” LIFE, June 16, 1947. © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation<br>

“...things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to...”

In the postwar era, options for women were limited to the realms of motherhood and housework. Nina Leen’s “American Woman’s Dilemma” presents the reality of these choices for women.

Martha Holmes, photograph from “Mr. B.,” LIFE, April 24, 1950. © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation<br>

“...the women that men love and many children...”

Martha Holmes excelled in creating personal portraits of Hollywood personalities. On display are her 1950 photographs of mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine. Shown with fans, family, and other celebrities, these images of Eckstine give us a sense of fame and culture in this time period.

Hansel Mieth, photograph from “International Ladies’ Garment Workers: How a Great Union Works Inside and Out,” LIFE, August 1, 1938. © LIFE Picture Collection, Meredith Corporation<br>

“ see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed...”

Hansel Mieth’s photo essays engaged the public to understand more about the situations of those around them. Her featured images of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union offer a wider view of those who belonged to organized labor forces.

“...thus to see, and to be shown, is now the will and new expectancy of half of humankind." ~Henry Luce, 1936

This exhibition has been organized by the New-York Historical Society. This exhibition has been generously supported by Joyce B. Cowin, with additional support from Sara Lee Schupf, Jerry Speyer, and Robert A. M. Stern.