Dorothea Lange: Seeing People

Yale Univ. Nov. 2023. 216p. ISBN 9780300272000. $55. PHOTOG
Dorothea Lange’s (1895–1965) place in the pantheon of documentary photography is undisputed, as demonstrated by this profusely illustrated catalogue accompanying an exhibition at DC’s National Gallery of Art. It considers the evolution of Lange’s portraits through her influences (including New York portrait photographer Arnold Genthe and modernist photographer Alfred Stieglitz) and her years running a successful studio in San Francisco. The introduction and first of three accessible essays provide a summary of Lange’s work and its impact and examine individual photos. Her images, many commissioned by government agencies in the 1930s and ‘40s, included portraits of dispossessed farmers, striking workers, rural poverty, and the Manzanar concentration camp (many of these images were suppressed by the government). Two shorter essays offer thematic frameworks and background for Lange’s photos of migrant camps in California and her famous image, American Farm Woman, with thoughts on Lange’s messaging about gender and how she paired images as a way of storytelling. There is a fair amount of overlap in the essays, along with some critique.
VERDICT A focused look at Lange’s extraordinary, nearly 50-year career through the lens of her portraiture. Recommended for art and large libraries and local collections.
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