Bourke-White began her career in the 1920s photographing industrial processes in the steel mills of Cleveland. In both the United States and the Soviet Union, Bourke-White had taken many pictures of men working in the heat and dust and fractured light of factories, mines and refineries. By the time she got to South Africa, she had become skilled at portraying the human element in production.
“There is something dynamic about the rushing flow of metal, the dying sparks, the clouds of smoke, the heat, the traveling cranes clanging back and forth.” –MBW
In a pair of photographs below, Bourke-White captures the pouring of molten gold at the Rand Refinery in Germiston, the largest gold refining operation in the world at the time. By doing so, she demonstrated that African and Coloured workers, like their African-American counterparts, need not be confined to the mines or unskilled labor, and could instead break into the semi-skilled labor processes still monopolized by whites. Neither one of these images appeared in her Life story. These images clearly echo a photograph she took of an interracial work crew in a U.S. aluminum refinery six years earlier.
In the US, Bourke-White photographed this interracial work team in 1939, an unusual sight in the American workplace of the time. These workers pour molten aluminum alloy into sand castings at an Aluminum Company of America plant.
“Any great art that will come out of this industrial age,will rise from industrial subjects which are powerful and sincere and close to the heart of life”