Dorothea Lange, the art of social engagement

Today’s Featured Image

 

A woman on the road with her family, one month from South Dakota. Taken by Dorothea Lange in Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California, 1939

Dorothea Lange took this photograph in Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California in 1939. It is a picture of a woman sitting in a ramshackle truck while holding a grimy baby on her lap. She is with her family. It is one month after leaving South Dakota, and they are on the road to California. See the desperation and fear in the mother’s face, the question in the child’s eyes? Can we help? Will we?

Dorothea Lange is one of the most influential female photographers of the first half of the twentieth-century and a favorite of mine. Margaret Bourke-White (who is also a hero) may have photographed a wider range of subjects, but no one matches Lange’s ability to evoke both our empathy and outrage at the same time.

I found the following excerpt at the Museum of Modern Art website. It’s from the book: MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published in 1999. It succinctly describes what I’m talking about:

“The picture exemplifies Lange’s exceptional talent for making the leap from concrete fact to arching symbol without leaving reality behind. She made it for the Farm Security Administration, a government agency whose photographic unit was charged with documenting the plight of the rural poor in the 1930s. Her work created a lasting image of the Great Depression. It also deepened the link between the descriptive style of documentary photography and the ideal of social engagement, becoming a touchstone for photographers who felt that their work should not only record social conditions but try to persuade people to improve them.”

It’s my intent to introduce followers of this blog to images I believe are significant, beautiful, striking, and engaging. The ones that make me pause and look deeper. I may drop in some history here and there, but I don’t intend history to be the primary focus of the site. There are plenty of sources on the web which have already done a better job of it than I ever will. Ergo, we have a line of links. Follow them if you’re interested and want to learn more.

The History Place has a selection of Dorothea Lange’s photographs with descriptions.

A visit to the Shorpy Vaults is always illuminating. They have 8 or 9 pages of restored Lange images you can peruse.

The ARTSY site has an essay on the history and importance of government support of artists’ work. Lange is one of the featured artists.

Today’s Musical Selection: “Waters of March” by Lani Hall

 

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