Gandhi at the Spinning Wheel


It was the defining portrait of one of the 20th century’s most influential figures, but the picture almost didn’t happen. LIFE magazine’s first female photographer, Margaret Bourke-White was in India in 1946 to cover the impending Indian independence. She was all set to shoot when Gandhi’s secretaries stopped her: If she was going to photograph Gandhi at the spinning wheel (a symbol for India’s struggle for independence), she first had to learn to use one herself.

It was a rare photo-op and Bourke-White was not going to lose it. She learnt how to use the spinning wheel, but further demands followed–Gandhi wasn’t to be spoken to (it being his day of silence.) And because he detested bright light, Bourke-White was only allowed to use three flashbulbs. The humid Indian weather wreaked havoc on her camera equipment, too. She tried to take the picture without flash, but the bright Indian day hindered her further. [Less than stellar pictures can be seen here and here]

When time finally came to shoot, Bourke-White’s first flashbulb failed. And while the second one worked, she forgot to pull the slide, rendering it blank.She thought it was all over, but luckily, the third attempt was successful. In the end, she came away with an image that became Gandhi’s most enduring representation. 



11 thoughts on “Gandhi at the Spinning Wheel

  1. […] criticized for being an advocate of poverty. Although he tried to rough the caste system up, the iconic photo of the great teacher, at his spinning wheel, has often been interpreted as a symbol of his profound […]

  2. As technology advances, and leaves many with idle hands today, one has to ask if Gandhi looked at the advancement in mechanized weaving as something that is not good for his people. One machine could replace the production of a village, which without the income of a home spinning business would starve his people. We can see this today as 100 jobs are replaced by one man and a computer. Computers, although a great invention, may be the demise of a civilization. And in the end, only the ultra affluent will be able to enjoy the leisure time that technology has brought us.

  3. Gandhi stayed at mission compound Chhatauni in Motihari in 1939
    In 1974 Mr.Rambriksh Ram told me that Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi stayed with Rev. Ernest .Oliver for 3 Days in Mission Compound Motihari and he would visit many places. At that time Rev E.Oliver was the missionary in charge of R.B.M.U.Motihari. Now Rambriksh Ram has died. In Gandhi Satyagrah Satabdi Year, I remember that sentence and I went to meet his son Ramchandra Ram at his resident in Pat aura Motihari and asked about the matter related to Gandhiji . He told me that my father told me that your grandfather Name Jattu Ram went to Motihari Railway station to bring Gandhiji by his horse cart and Gandhiji came from station to mission compound byhis horse cart and stayed with Rev.E..Oliver for three days and went to many places to meet persecuted people. Fallowing paragraph is written in Document Previw Acces to the complete full text

    “Ernest and Margaret were based in Motihari, the main town of the district of Champaran in North Bihar. It was this district that Mahatma Gandhi made the center of his campaign of satyagraha (nonviolent noncooperation) for the workers exploited by the indigo planters and for the end of British imperial rule in India. In 1939 Oliver was privileged to have an audience with Gandhi himself and wrote later of being “greatly impressed by him”..

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