05 July 2015

Artist: Dorothea Lange

I recently discovered how much great viewing there is on PBS online and was intrigued to watch a documentary on Dorothea Lange directed by her granddaughter Dyanna Taylor. Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning shows footage of Lange from 1962-66, combing through her vast photographic archive to choose images for an exhibit at MoMA. Her assessments of her own work are interspersed with the back story of a childhood bout with polio which left her with a limp, her two marriages and her struggle to balance art with motherhood. The photographs she took during the 1930s of the migrant farmers and their families fleeing the dust bowl states for the west coast (and finding that there wasn't work or shelter for them there) came to represent the Great Depression and eventually helped galvanize the public and the government to provide aid. As she traveled the country, often with second husband Paul Taylor (an economist and social scientist), she would introduce herself to her subjects and let them know what she was doing so that they were willing to be photographed. The result was a stark realism that still holds up 80 years later. Most sobering for me, was Lange's description of a series of photos she took of middle class women's mended stockings as they sat waiting to be given a bag of groceries to take home (a surreptitious bread line for women of a certain social standing). Their silk stockings were scarred with thin snags that had been meticulously darned, yet that looked worse for the mending. No self-respecting woman would have left the house in such a state unless those were the only stockings she owned and she didn't have the means to replace them. It's these small details that tell the story of such a difficult time and that remind us not just to look at what is in front of us, but to really see it.


Images: Dorothea Lange via Shorpy and Indulgy.
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