Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
I chose Dorothea Lange because I admire her strength of character, her empathy and compassion for her subjects, but more importantly because of the essence of the people she was able to capture in her photographs. Not only does the viewer feel pity for the subjects, they also feel sadness for them because the photographs treat them as people so the viewer is able to feel for them like they would their own family and friends. The three photographs I selected are unified and work together to invite the viewer into the world of the subjects by portraying them in their typical surroundings. The images are all documentary and elicit emotions from the viewer. Lange felt compassion for these poverty stricken families and was striving to bring about political change through her photos. She wasn’t afraid to photograph real life. The depression which began in 1929 lead to Lange's first documentary photograph titled, “White Angel Breadline”.
“White Angel Breadline”
San Francisco, 1933
In “White Angel Breadline” I see a crowd of men wearing hats facing away from me while the subject leans against a fence or railing with his back to the crowd facing the viewer. The lines and angle of the railing create a barrier as if it is holding the people or cattle back. Although the subject’s eyes are covered by the brim of his hat, the posture of his body, clenched fists and stern jaw line indicates anger and fortitude, as if to express that he doesn't like being in this breadline but he doesn’t know what he would do if it weren’t here. He is unshaven and his hat is stained and dirty. His coat has a tear in one of the sleeves and he possesses a tin cup. There is another man in the crowd looking over his shoulder at the man with his back to the crowd as if to say, you are no better than I. It is a striking portrait of that one man while at the same time it reflects on a broader social situation. Lange’s somewhat shallow depth of field creates a sense of depth with the blurring of the front of the line.
During the depression, the government patronized the arts and created work for writers, scholars and artists through the “Endowment of the Arts” programs. Lange was one of several American photographers that worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to resolve the problems of displaced farm owners and workers during the Great Depression. While working for the FSA, Lange took her most famous photograph titled, “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California 1936” at a pea-pickers' camp in Northern California where she discovered some 2,500 starving migrant workers.
“Migrant Mother Nipomo, California”
In "Migrant Mother” I see a woman is sitting in a lean-to with her children hungry and tired. This photograph was informally posed and presents a strong vertical line, created by the arm and face of the centered migrant mother, whose body is lighted to direct the eye of the viewer from the bottom center of the photograph to her face, which is also lighted strongly. On both sides the mother is flanked by young children, their bodies and heads turned away from the eye of the camera and hidden from view. Though informally posed, the composition is balanced. The use of lighting emphasizes the desperate resignation in the woman's face and her arm seen supporting her chin, establishes a depressed mood and emotion. The strong, (yet subtle) horizontal lines created by the woman's furrowed brows and the pursed lips further balances the composition and helps to keep it centered. The woman’s gaze is distant while her face is wrenched in worry for her children. Everyone is dirty and their clothes have excellent texture and appear rough, ragged, and torn. However for me it’s that stare which Lange captures, the faraway distant gaze that speaks volumes and depicts the essence of “migrant mothers”...