1500 word essay critiquing an existing published photo project including examples of images and bibliography.
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)
Mississippi Delta (1937) – Figure 1
Photographic Analysis of Lange’s Work
Spirn’s definition of a photograph is ‘an image that can embody a complete thought or an entire story; a series of photographs can shape a narrative or make an argument. Words tap the ideas that the visual holds and carries them further’ (Spirn, 2008: xi)
Lange was a documentarian photographer who through image defined the effects of the American Depression of the 1930’s. Her photographs described a narrative so powerful; it sent a message all over the world.
The objective and aim of this analysis is to define Lange’s work today from a historical, feminist and political perspective, demonstrating that her photographs not only detail the hardships during the depression but that they also chart the progress of women during it. In order to achieve this Lange will also be included in a synopsis, as her story says as much about female emancipation as the photographs she herself took.
Synopsis of Dorothea Lange:
It is difficult to define what or who Dorothea Lange was in a brief synopsis. Undoubtedly Lange was many things to many people both personally and professionally. It is clear that she had compassion for the people of the Great Depression and an energy and drive that was thwarted only by her own illness. In 1939 she documented families living on the road in trailer parks (Rambler’s Park, Yakima Valley, Washington, August, 1939), where fruit picking was seasonal. So Lange would travel with the migrant families seeing how much they earned ($1 a day, Yakima Valley, near Toppenish, Washington, August 1939) and as a consequence, discovered more information regarding their ‘living’ conditions expanding on the evidence she had witnessed outside of her own studio.
She discovered that the conditions the migrant workers lived in were appalling: i.e. living in squatter camps, (Malin, Klamath County, Oregon, September 1939), or in tents, shack towns or living literally being ‘on the road’ in their makeshift vehicles often with sick children.
Lange worked for a number of organisations in her professional capacity as a photographer, but her work for the FSA in particular, gave Lange a political and social voice. So she worked tirelessly to try to implement change in society by bringing her knowledge of the depression to a mass audience.
Through her work, she came up against many inequalities both through the camera lens and by using the camera lens. Even the organisation she worked for (FSA) would often ignore requests for her negatives. Rosenblum (1997: 366-9) explains:
‘Project photographers had scripts to work with and did not ‘own’ their nagatives and subsequently had no control over how their images might be cropped, arranged and captioned..Lange didn’t like this situation.’
Her most famous photograph, ‘Migrant Mother’ is one of the photographs selected to tell a narrative which records the harrowing plight of over 23% of the American population during the Depression. Additionally, Lange’s work has been chosen purposefully to reflect life from a female perspective (see figure 1-6), which describes the narrative of women’s struggle for equality and emancipation against the stark backdrop of the Depression. These images, perhaps unwittingly, document how the environment and poverty affect social relationships from a patriarchal perspective. The images also portray ‘the mother’, as Lange examines her responsibilities and restraints (both personally and professionally), she works with them to expand on her knowledge which demonstrates her versatility, determination, and need for recognition, (i.e. to have a woman’s voice).
In point, Lange’s photography measures and charts up to thirty years in the history of American Women. Her photography remains a testament of its time which