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Dorothea Lange: Exploring the Photographer's Work at the Museum of Modern Art
Art

Dorothea Lange: Exploring the Photographer’s Work at the Museum of Modern Art

Dorothea Lange: Exploring the Photographer’s Work at the Museum of Modern Art September 9, 2020
1936_Lange_Migrant-Mother copy Dorothea Lange

Editor: Jose Morales

1940_Lange_Migratory-Cotton-Picker Dorothea Lange
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona November 1940 Gelatin silver print, printed 1965 19 15/16 x 23 13/16" (50.7 x 60.5 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 849.1968
"All photographs—not only those that are so-called 'documentary,' and every photograph really is documentary and belongs in some place, has a place in history—can be fortified by words."
- Dorothea Lange

NEW YORK CITY – Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) is recognized as one of the most influential American photographers and a pioneer in the development of documentary photography. A National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, her photographic work depicting those affected by the Great Depression and the social and economic upheaval of the times cemented her place in history books. Since February 2020, The Museum of Modern Art has showcased the first major solo exhibition in New York City of the photographer’s profound work in over 50 years, only on view through September 19, 2020.

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures highlights approximately 100 photographs from the Museum’s exclusive collection. Additionally, through the use of archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, oral histories, and contemporary voices by scholars, artists, writers, and critics, visitors can examine the ways in which words inflect our knowledge and understanding of Lange’s work. 

Dorothea Lange 1936_Lange_Migrant-Mother
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California March 1936 Gelatin silver print, printed 1949 11 1/8 x 8 9/16" (28.3 x 21.8 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 331.1995

In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, Lange took her camera to the streets of San Francisco. She was driven by a growing interest in the everyday experiences of the people she met and the struggles they faced. This led her to work for government agencies that were looking to raise public awareness and aid for struggling farmers and those devastated by the Great Depression. The photographs and notes she took at the time became the foundation of several government reports. Lange’s dedication to social justice and her belief in the power of photography were ever-present catalysts throughout her life, even when her politics might not have been in par with that of those who were paying for her work. 

Spanning her career from beginning to end, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures showcases iconic works by the artist together with lesser-known photographs. It traces the photographs’ diverse relationships to words: from early criticism on Lange’s work to her photo-essays published in LIFE magazine, to her examination and study of the US criminal justice system. Additionally, the exhibition incorporates groundbreaking photographs of the 1930s—including Migrant Mother (1936)—that sparked crucial public awareness of the lives and difficulties being faced by displaced families, migrant workers, and sharecroppers during the Great Depression. A central focus of the exhibition is the landmark photobook An American Exodus, a 1939 collaboration between Lange and her husband and agricultural economist Paul Schuster Taylor. The book highlights the voices of Lange’s photographic subjects, showcasing firs-hand quotes about their experiences.

1957_Lange_The-Defendant Dorothea Lange
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California 1955-57 Gelatin silver print, printed 1965 12 3/8 x 10 1/8" (31.4 x 25.8 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 802.1968

Throughout the 20th century, Lange’s work continued to be useful in addressing marginalized histories and various ongoing social concerns. Working as a photographer for the US Government and several famous magazines backed the importance of her work. Her photographs were often syndicated and distributed outside of their original context. Lange’s photographs of the 1930s helped illustrate Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941), and her 1950s photographs of a public defender were used to illustrate Minimizing Racism in Jury Trials (1969), a law handbook published after Black Panther Huey P. Newton’s first trial during a time of great racial conflict in the United States. – GM

MORE FROM THE EXHIBITION

LangeWordsPics-1
LangeWordsPics-4 Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange 1938_Lange_Tractored-Out
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas June 1938 Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1958 9 5/16 x 12 13/16" (23.6 x 32.6 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 474.1959
Dorothea Lange 1933_Lange_White-Angel-Break-Line-SF Dorothea Lange
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco 1933 Gelatin silver print 10 3/4 x 8 7/8" (27.3 x 22.6 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Albert M. Bender 108.1940
1938_LANGE_Woman-of-the-High-Plains
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938 Gelatin silver print, printed 1965 29 3/4 x 24" (75.6 x 61 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 418.1995
1942_LANGE_One-Nation-Indivisible
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco 1942 Gelatin silver print 13 1/8 x 9 13/16" (33.4 x 25 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 343.1995
Dorothea Lange 1942_Lange_Richmond-1
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) Richmond, California 1942 Gelatin silver print, printed 1965 9 3/4 x 7 11/16" (24.7 x 19.5 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 861.1968
Dorothea Lange 1942_Lange_Richmond-CA Dorothea Lange
DOROTHEA LANGE (American, 1895–1965) Richmond, California 1942 Gelatin silver print, printed 1965 7 3/8 x 6 5/8" (18.8 x 16.9 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 366.1995
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

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