Esther Bubley

1921–1998

Esther Bubley was a photojournalist renowned for her revealing images of the United States and its people in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

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.
 

National Museum of Women in the Arts