Dorothea Lange – Words & Pictures
Toward the end of her life, Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) reflected, “All photographs—not only those that are so-called ‘documentary’…can be fortified by words.” A committed social observer, Lange paid sharp attention to the human condition, conveying stories of everyday life through her photographs and the voices they drew in.
Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major MoMA exhibition of Lange’s in 50 years, brings iconic works from the collection together with less seen photographs—from early street photography to projects on criminal justice reform. The work’s complex relationships to words show Lange’s interest in art’s power to deliver public awareness and to connect to intimate narratives in the world.
In her landmark 1939 photobook An American Exodus—a central focus of the show—Lange experiments with combining words and pictures to convey the human impact of Dust Bowl migration. Conceived in collaboration with her husband, agricultural economist Paul Taylor, the book weaves together field notes, folk song lyrics, newspaper excerpts, and observations from contemporary sociologists. These are accompanied by a chorus of first-person quotations from the sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers at the center of her pictures. Presenting Lange’s work in its diverse contexts—photobooks, Depression-era government reports, newspapers, magazines, poems—along with the voices of contemporary artists, writers, and thinkers, the exhibition offers a more nuanced understanding of Lange’s vocation and new means for considering words and pictures today.
Organized by Sarah Meister, Curator, with River Bullock, Beaumont, and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, assisted by Madeline Weisburg, Modern Women’s Fund 12-Month Intern, Department of Photography.
In conjunction with this major exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, this catalog provides a fresh approach to some of her most iconic images, such as White Angel Breadline (1933) and Migrant Mother (1936), as well as rarely seen works.
These photographs, some reproduced in their original published form, are accompanied by contributions from a distinguished group of contemporary writers, artists, and critical thinkers who respond to the images with observations both personal and scholarly. By viewing the breadth of Lange’s career and the diverse contexts in which her work appeared, we gain a more nuanced understanding of her achievement and her belief that “all photographs can be fortified by words.”
Includes contributions by Julie Ault, Kimberly Juanita Brown, River Encalada Bullock, Sam Contis, Jennifer A. Greenhill, Lauren Kroiz, Sally Mann, Sandra S. Phillips, Wendy Red Star, Christina Sharpe, Robert Slifkin, Rebecca Solnit, and Tess Taylor.
Dorothea Lange – Words & Pictures
Through May 9
MoMA, New York
More info on:
Hardcover: 176 pages, 152 illus.
Author: Sarah Hermanson Meister
Publisher: The Museum of Modern Art, New York (February 11, 2020)
Size: 9 x 1 x 10.5 inches
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) operated a successful San Francisco portrait studio in the 1920s before going on to work with the Resettlement Administration (and later the Farm Security Administration) documenting the hardships of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl migration. During World War II, Lange worked for the US government photographing the Japanese American internment camps, and California’s wartime economy. Lange’s photographs were published widely during her lifetime. Lange worked closely with curator John Szarkowski on a retrospective that opened posthumously in 1966 at the Museum of Modern Art.