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Dorothea Lange Photo

Dorothea Lange

American Photographer

Movements and Styles: Modern Photography, Straight Photography, Documentary Photography

Born: May 26, 1895 - Hoboken, New Jersey

Died: October 11, 1965 - San Francisco, California

Dorothea Lange Timeline

Important Art by Dorothea Lange

The below artworks are the most important by Dorothea Lange - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The White Angel Breadline (1933)

The White Angel Breadline (1933)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of Lange's better-known photographs, she often cited this particular scene when speaking about her breakthrough into documentary photography. "The discrepancy between what I was working on in the printing frames and what was going on in the streets was more than I could assimilate". Drawn to the lines of people waiting for worker's compensation or food relief, the image of this elderly man waiting for food at the soup kitchen embodies the depressed mood of the times. The camera focuses on the man's hat and face, which show an exploration of texture through comparison of the rough material and wrinkles of the hat, as well as his weathered skin; her unconventional use of the fence in the foreground to lend dynamism to the scene is also characteristic of use of modernist techniques.

- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Henry Swift Collection

Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California (1936)

Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California (1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this picture, Lange is able to capture a striking look of anxiety on the face of her subject. Stranded in his car, the man's plight suggests the larger problems that society faced during the Great Depression. To add to the feeling of claustrophobia, Lange purposely cropped the photograph into a tighter composition, which originally included a woman sitting in the passenger's seat. Rather than suggesting he pose, Lange has caught him as if unawares, an effect which persuades us all the more of the truth of the image.

- The Dorothea Lange Collection, The Oakland Museum of California

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936)

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: Probably the most famous of Lange's photographs, the description she wrote of her encounter with Florence Owens Thompson reveals that it left a deep impression on her. "I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tyres from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me... I knew that I had recorded the essence of my assignment." The indescribably poignant expression on Thompson's face stands out from between the bowed heads of her sons, whose presence reveals the nature of her concerns.

- San Francisco History Room, San Francisco Public Library

Plantation overseer and his field hands, near Clarksdale, Mississippi (1936)

Plantation overseer and his field hands, near Clarksdale, Mississippi (1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: Lange was an ardent activist and felt strongly about racism. In this composition, the white man with his foot resting on the car seems to be proudly showing off his belongings, including the four black men in the background. The positioning of the men so conveniently fits into Lange's social commentary as to be almost comical, echoing what is ridiculous in the very concept of racial discrimination between whites and blacks. This separation is illustrated in the contrast between dark hats and jackets of the workers, and the light clothing of the overseer.

- Collection of the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

Members of the Mochida family (1942)

Members of the Mochida family (1942)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is a photo of the members of the Mochida family awaiting an evacuation bus. Identification tags are used to aid in keeping the family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township. He raised snapdragons and sweet peas. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry would be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. The solemnity and portrait style of this photograph counteracts the indignity of the Mochida family's pending internment. The tags that hang from their clothing are clearly displayed, echoing those on their luggage and drawing attention to their treatment as less than human. This was among a series of pictures commissioned by the government but which were subsequently impounded when fears arose that they would spark outrage at the treatment of internees.

Oil on canvas - The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Argument in a Trailer Camp (1944)

Argument in a Trailer Camp (1944)

Artwork description & Analysis: In her later work, Lange's more interesting portraits are characterized by their psychological depth and intensity. The strained relationship between this couple represents the tension caused by changing gender roles, as women increasingly joined the workforce during the war years. With the woman in the lighted foreground, Lange casts the female into the role of actor, while the man is relegated to the shadows.

Tempura on canvas - The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago



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Dorothea Lange Photo

Related Art and Artists

Reflection of a Man in a Dresser Mirror, from Harlem Document (c. 1938)
Artwork Images

Reflection of a Man in a Dresser Mirror, from Harlem Document (c. 1938)

Artist: Aaron Siskind

Artwork description & Analysis: Siskind's first pictures show a decidedly more straightforward approach to picture making than the later work for which he became known. Nevertheless, his formalist eye is evident even in this documentary work. Many details make this photograph visually satisfying. Starting at the upper left is a lighting fixture with two "candles," but only one bulb. This part of the image is the beginning of a series of contrasts observable in the rest of the photograph, as the viewer follows the general line of the C-curve from fixture to dress to dresser to man. These contrasts include positive objects and negative space, pictures within pictures (the man in the reflection and the pictures on the dresser are both part of Siskind's "picture,") the contrast of the male figure in the mirror versus the female dress on the hanger, and the presence of the male figure and the absence of the female figure. Although the male figure is a specific individual and technically the focal point, he is flattened in his own reflection against the back wall, pressed into the service of the overall design of the photograph. Instead, the small, but aesthetic, lamp base in the lower center of the picture, with its slightly tilted shade, could be seen as alluding to the additional contrast of the middle class values and aspirations versus the limited opportunity and resources of those living in Harlem.

Gelatin silver print - George Eastman House, Rochester, NY

Winter, Fifth Avenue (1892)

Winter, Fifth Avenue (1892)

Artist: Alfred Stieglitz

Artwork description & Analysis: Winter, Fifth Avenue shows the busy New York street in the midst of a snowstorm. Stieglitz stalked Fifth Avenue for three frigid hours waiting for the perfect moment. He had to wait for the ideal composition - unlike a painter, who could manufacture it. Trails in the snow lead the eye up this vertical composition to its focal point - a dark horse and carriage that is swallowed by the snowy atmosphere. The snow blurs the details of the urban surroundings, lending the photo an Impressionistic appearance. This depiction of man - crudely mechanized - and pitted against the violence of the natural world, shows Stieglitz's inheritance from nineteenth century Romanticism.

Photogravure - The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Staircase (1930)
Artwork Images

The Staircase (1930)

Artist: Alexander Rodchenko

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of Rodchenko's finest photographs. Often credited with devising the key principles of modern photography, Rodchenko is praised for his use of unusual angles and perspective. Here, he juxtaposes the motif of a woman with a child against the stern geometry of the man-made environment. The position of the camera at a peculiar angle provides for an innovative, yet carefully balanced and flowing composition. Compositions such as this were an important influence on New Vision, the modernist photography movement that gripped Europe in the 1920s and '30s.

Gelatin-silver print - Private Collection

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