Progression of Art
The White Angel Breadline
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
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
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
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
Photograph of Members of the Mochida Family Awaiting Evacuation
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
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