Esther Bubley (1921-1998)
I am quite humble & happy to be one of those people who work because they love their work & take pride in doing it as best they can.
Esther Bubley was born to immigrant parents in Superior, Wisconsin. Her love of photography started at a young age and she eventually moved to New York City then to Washington D.C. when she was twenty years old. She took a job at the Office of War Information in the darkrooms before working her way up to staff photographer in 1943. She is most noted for images she captured while on a six week, cross-country assignment in the years leading up to and during World War II. The home front images encapsulate different races, genders, ages and social classes as everyday people surviving in a war-torn age.
As the war ended, Bubley produced several pictorial series. She became fascinated with women workers who were transitioning back into domestic roles. From this, Bubley produced a series of photo-essays for Ladies Home Journal called “How America Lives,” in which she explored the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of being a housewife. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, hospitals became her focus. Bubley was fascinated with health care and mental health. In 1951, she was hired to document the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. On one such day, a woman brought in a foster child who was having difficulty breathing. Bubleythen observed the doctors performing an emergency tracheotomy on the girl without anesthesia. The procedure saved the girl’s life.
In 1953, UNICEF hired Bubley to photograph a medical program launched in French Morocco (currently Morocco) by the French government to control trachoma. Trachoma was an infectious eye disease that was spreading throughout the country; if it was not treated, it caused permanent blindness. Bubley documented both the medical care and the Moroccan people. By the mid 1960s, the popularity of magazines decreased and Bubley pursued personal interests. On March 16, 1998, Bubley dead of cancer in New York City.
Life and Ladies Home Journal were just two of the many magazines that published Bubley’s work. Companies that hired Bubley for photos included Pan American World Airways and Pepsi Cola.
She made her career as a freelance photographer at a time when the profession was still considered a “boys’ club.”
She photographed celebrities such as jazz musician Charlie Parker and noted scientist Albert Einstein. Life hired Bubley to photograph Einstein for his 74th birthday celebration, Einstein despised photographers but on that day, he agreed to an hour photo session at his Princeton, New Jersey home. Since Bubley was both quiet and unobtrusive, Einstein allowed her to follow him all day.
- The Library of Congress honored Bubley, along with seven other women, in an exhibition, “Women Come to the Front.” This exhibition paid homage to the wartime efforts of women who documented the home front during World War II.
The Library of Congress. The Photographs of Esther Bubley. Washington D.C.: The Library of Congress, 2010.
Davel, Leslie T. “Shifting Mores: Esther Bubley’s World War II Boarding House Photos.” Washington HIsotry 10, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 1998/1999): 44-62.
Ellis, Jacqueline. “Revolutionary Spaces: Photographs of Working-class Women by Esther Bubley.” Feminist Review 1, no. 53 (Summer 1996): 74-94.
Brannan, Beverly. “Private Eye,” Smithsonian Magazine (March 2004).
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Library of Congress
Photos found on estherbubley.com.