Riveting portrait of one of America’s most renowned photographers.
In addition to providing insight into Dorothea Lange’s private life (1895–1965) and professional development, Gordon (History/New York Univ.; The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, 1999, etc.) explores the wider context in which she lived and worked. The author’s careful scholarship reveals the connection between Lange’s work and the sociopolitical environment surrounding her, while still portraying her as a normal, flawed human being. Lange is famous for her Depression-era photographs of breadlines and migrant farm workers, yet her career also spanned two World Wars, the rise of fascism and communism, the beginnings of feminism and the civil-rights movement. A successful portrait photographer in San Francisco for more than a decade, Lange left behind her thriving business in the mid-1930s to pursue documentary photography in pursuit of social justice. Because Lange kept no personal papers or diaries prior to 1935, however, Gordon makes several educated guesses about events during this largely undocumented period; the author’s periodic interjections alert readers to the differences between known fact and authorial supposition. Gordon deftly leads readers through the labyrinth of Lange’s life—her apprenticeships with Arnold Genthe and Clarence White, her marriage to painter Maynard Dixon, her work with the Farm Security Administration during the Depression—providing a personal, intimate tour of the photographer’s life and work. Though largely sympathetic, Gordon doesn’t shy away from depicting Lange’s sometimes questionable decisions regarding her personal life.
A rigorously constructed, entertaining biography.