Editor: Jose Morales
"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.
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.
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
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