DOROTHEA LANGE by Elizabeth Partridge


A Visual Life
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 A general introduction to the life and work of photojournalist Lange that draws on family remembrances, scholarly evaluations, and a handsome picture portfolio. Six essays, one interview, and a healthy black-and-white picture section make up this composite introduction to Lange (18951965), best known for her US Farm Security Administration images of Depression-era migrant workers. Editor Partridge grew up in Lange's loosely knit family fold (her father worked as an assistant), and her warm introduction details the tension between Lange's motherly impulses and her irascible nature. In a 1976 interview, Ansel Adams comments on shared technical hardships, Lange's marriage to activist Paul Taylor, and her ``absolute sexless beauty.'' Roger Daniels (History/Univ. of Chicago) looks at Lange's work documenting Japanese Americans interned by the War Relocation Authority during WW II. And an incisive essay by Sally Stein (Art History/Univ. of California, Irvine) discusses Lange's fascination with bodily depictions (she had been crippled by childhood polio and was dogged by lifelong physical infirmities). Most telling, though, are the photographs themselves. One from 1937, taken at a sharecropper's cabin in Coahoma County, Miss., shows only a black woman's bare feet in the foreground, poised elegantly one atop the other on the dusty and worn boards of a front porch. Another, from 1938, records campaign posters taped to a Waco, Tex., gas station window. The sternly optimistic faces of the candidates surround painted sign lettering that reads: ``Washing/Greasing/Storage.'' Both images are blunt and literal, relying on secondary association for political or allegorical impact. Later photographs draw from Lange's extensive world travels. In all, this is a limited and general introduction to Lange's life and work. It piques curiosity but leaves a lot of rich material unexamined. Still, this compendium is respectfully assembled and nicely documented. (Partridge has produced a companion film to accompany the book.)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56098-350-7
Page count: 176pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994