Life Magazine


Life Magazine


Life is among the most famous of the twentieth-century picture magazines, and some of the century's most iconic photographs were published in its pages. This first issue of Life, from 1936, features a photograph by Margaret Bourke-White on its cover. A full scan of this issue is available through the Internet Archive.

Picture magazines like Life used the halftone process, which allowed photographs to be printed efficiently alongside text. Magazines began employing photo editors to create innovative and eye-catching layouts, such as the ones seen here. To consider the changing aesthetic of photojournalism, compare Life’s photographs and layout with the illustrated news report from 1868 on the Trial of Patrick J. Whelan.

The documentary photographs published in Life follow a tradition of social documentary photography that emerged in the late-nineteenth century with photographers Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine. Bourke-White took part in this tradition with her photographs documenting poverty in the American South, which were published alongside the writings of Erskine Caldwell in You Have Seen Their Faces. Around the same time that Bourke-White was photographing the American South, the American government’s Farm Security Administration started hiring photographers like Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks to record the effects of the Depression in America. 

Other examples of photojournalism included in this exhibition include The Changing of the Guard and The Fight against Apartheid!


Margaret Bourke-White (photographer)


21.8 x 33.6 cm
AP 2 L72 v.1, no.1 1937


cover 72dpi.jpg
p2 72dpi.jpg
p36 72dpi.jpg
p38 72dpi.jpg
Life copy.jpg


Margaret Bourke-White (photographer), “Life Magazine,” Bruce Peel Special Collections Library Online Exhibits, accessed September 26, 2023,

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