A new exhibition reveals how Lange's concern for the dispossessed has never been more relevant.
Confronting the economic crisis of the Great Depression, Lange produced some of the most influential photographs of the twentieth century. A new exhibition reveals how her concern for the dispossessed has never been more relevant.
A lyrical new book by the photographer Sam Contis collects lesser-known images from the great documentarian’s archive.
Many of the black-and-white images in the new book “Day Sleeper,” by the photographer Sam Contis, look similar to Contis’s own: arid landscapes etched with fencing, cropped views of work-roughened hands, and unstaged, sunlit portraits. For her 2017 volume “Deep Springs,” for instance, Contis focussed on the liberal-arts junior college of the same name, in California—it’s also a functioning desert-valley ranch—to reflect on the mythos of the American West. But, for this project, Contis was not the searching photographer but the instigator, excavator, and editor. None other than Dorothea Lange took the pictures.
A new book entitled Day Sleeper now lifts Lange’s work out of the stasis it has found itself in for too long. For the book, Sam Contis used the archive housed at the Oakland Museum of California (plus images from the Library of Congress and the National Archives). In her afterword, Contis writes that “[t]he more I spent looking through her contact sheets, the more I started to feel an unexpected kinship. […] I formed the idea of making a book that would show her in a new light and also reflect a shared sensibility.”
Because photography touches most everything, our topics have been far-ranging — from the environment, cyberbullying and immigration to race, gender and class. We have written about famed photographers like Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and Diane Arbus as well as emerging image makers like Citlali Fabián, Fethi Sahraoui, Daniel Edwards and Mengwen Cao. And we have written about the need for more diverse storytellers to help us better understand the world we live in.
But obviously given we are not dealing with a candid photograph, the subjects were fully aware of the presence of the photographer. In fact, the photographer made them pose – this claim might not convince some people, yet, but once we’ve seen all the other photographs it will be obvious.
A highly political biography of a transformative figure in modern photojournalism, the documentary photographer Dorothea Lange.
perhaps the most iconic image — gracing textbooks, hanging from dormitory walls, affixed to political posters, even adorning a postage stamp — is Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” taken at a California farmworkers camp in 1936. The photo shows a woman nurturing three young children, one in her arms, the others leaning on her for support. Her manner is strong and protective, yet her face shows the worry of someone overpowered by events beyond her control. She has trekked west from the ravaged Dust Bowl of Oklahoma, finding fieldwork where she can. Gazing into space, she represents the spirit of America itself in the midst of history’s worst economic disaster — the mix of courage and compassion that will lead a proud, invincible nation to endure.
Unshuttered Lens: Dorothea Lange, Documentary Photography, and Government Work, (1935-1945)
AMERICANSUBURB X: THEORY: “Unshuttered Lens: Dorothea Lange, Documentary Photography, and Government Work, (1935-1945)”:
Was Dorothea Lange a cultural interpreter? Former Lange assistant, noted photographer, and protege Rondal Partridge, said, “You ask questions of great photographs, and great photographs ask questions of you.” (1) Lange’s photographic work “begs the question.”