Urgent Museum Notice

Esther Bubley

A black-and-white photograph of a light-skinned young woman with medium-length dark hair and thick bangs. She is depicted standing outdoors in front of a building. She wears a coat and holds a large camera.

Photo by John Vachon

1921–1998

Having developed an interest in photography in high school, Bubley received her big break in 1942, when she was hired as a darkroom assistant for Roy Stryker, the famed head of the photographic unit of the Office of War Information (OWI) in Washington, D.C. With Stryker’s guidance, Bubley embarked on her first assignments documenting wartime in the nation’s capital.

Bubley continued to work under Stryker when he was commissioned by the Standard Oil Company to create a photographic file documenting the oil industry. One of Bubley’s earliest projects for Standard Oil was a profile on the oil boom town of Tomball, Texas. She immersed herself in the town, its people, and its activities for six weeks. Her images of the community provide a compellingly intimate document of small-town American life in the mid-20th century.

Bubley’s images of oil boom-town residents, beauty pageants, and raucous after-school programs incisively capture aspects of daily life in America during and after World War II. She freelanced for various corporations and publications, including Life and Ladies’ Home Journal. Bubley approached her assignments with genuine curiosity, creating probing and enduring portrayals of ordinary lives.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Esther Bubley
  • Birth

    Phillips, Wisconsin, 1921
  • Death

    New York City, 1998

Works by Esther Bubley

Untitled (Washington, D.C.)

During America’s golden age of photojournalism, freelance photographer Esther Bubley cast her discerning eye over a broad range of subjects. Mentored by Roy Stryker, manager of the Farm Security Administration’s documentary photography program during the Great Depression, Bubley first chronicled American life during World War II.

Stryker encouraged Bubley to take photographs in her free time. Not knowing how to...

Candid street-scene photograph of a dark-skinned man wearing a WWII era military uniform. He gazes up and the his left, his left arm raised as he casually holds on to a lamp post with a