Esther Bubley (American, b. February 16, 1921 – d. March 16, 1998) was born in Phillips, Wisconsin to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe. Influenced by the new picture magazine LIFE and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographs of depression-era America, Bubley set her sights on a career in photography while she was still in high school. After a two-year diversion to teacher’s college, Bubley took a job in a photo lab. With her earnings and a scholarship, she attended the one-year photography program at the Minneapolis College of Art, and at age 20 moved to Washington, DC to make her mark as a photographer.
Bubley had difficulty finding work in the capital and moved to New York City where she had a series of short-lived jobs and continued to study photography. In December 1941, when the U.S. entered WWII, the job market suddenly opened up for women. Bubley was summoned to the National Archives to microfilm rare books, and she returned to Washington. There she was introduced to Roy Stryker, whose FSA photographic section had recently been transferred to the Office of War Information (OWI). Stryker hired Bubley to work in the lab, but soon promoted her to photographer.
When Stryker left to establish a photographic archive for the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), Bubley and several other FSA/OWI photographers followed him. Bubley freelanced for Standard Oil for the next twenty years. At the same time, she freelanced for LIFE magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, the Children’s Bureau, the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, UNICEF, Pepsi-Cola International, and Pan American World Airways, among others. Her work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She won two top place awards in competitions sponsored jointly by the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the Encyclopedia Britannica, several awards from the Art Director’s Club, and in 1954 was the first woman to win a first place award in Photography Magazine’s International division.
Bubley’s work is still widely exhibited, and it is found in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the Standard Oil Collection at the University of Louisville, the Pittsburgh Photographic Library Collection at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the National Portrait Gallery, the International Center of Photography, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego.