This Artist’s Portraits of Isolated New Yorkers Invoke Legendary Photographer Margaret Bourke-White (Who Happens to Be Her Great-Aunt)
Caroline White's new photographs document life in self isolation.
“COVID-19 has turned me much more into an artist,” says the photographer Caroline White. Since the outbreak reached American shores, White has been photographing people in lockdown, often taking their portraits through the windows of their homes.
White has primarily worked as a commercial photographer, focusing on brands and lifestyle influencers. But now she feels she’s following more in the footsteps of her famous great-aunt, Margaret Bourke-White, the first female photojournalist for LIFE magazine, who documented life in the Dust Bowl and the struggles of the Great Depression, and was the first Western photographer to capture images of the Soviet Union’s industrial infrastructure.
“I think [Bourke-White] would be saying, ‘OK, Caroline, you’re finally on to something here,'” White says. “I was always very intimidated by her.”
Before the pandemic, White had taken a few photos of clients through glass at hotels and restaurants, and found that she enjoyed playing with the reflections and the voyeuristic side of the images.
Once the outbreak struck, White started shooting friends and neighbors, capturing intimate and isolated moments. Then she began booking appointments with life coaches looking for social media content that fits the current mood.
“There’s this combination of sadness and beauty, and loneliness. Some of them are kind of hopeful,” said White of her subjects. “They’re all beautiful, in a way.”
Now, with soaring unemployment and a new economic crisis on our hands, White keeps thinking back to her great-aunt’s seminal images of the Great Depression.
“Things are certainly coming full circle,” White said. At the same time, the lives she photographs are still more comfortable than many of her great-aunt’s pictures. “These are all people with houses, homes, apartments, I haven’t photographed anyone living in a tent or a trailer yet. It shows how cozy and comfortable and lucky a lot of people are.”
Lately, White’s been thinking a lot about one of Bourke-White’s most famous photographs, of African-American men, women, and children on a breadline, standing beneath a cheerful billboard that proclaims the US to have the “world’s highest standard of living.”
“The contrast is so prevalent and has become so much more exaggerated than it already was,” said White, who has donated some of the proceeds from the sales of her recent work to the LA Regional Food Bank. “I am thinking of going to photograph the lines for food banks.”
See more photos from White’s “Quarantine Through Glass” series below.
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