The Huntsville Museum of Art will present a focused exhibition of the legendary documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange. Dorothea Lange’s America showcases 30 original lifetime prints by Lange dating from 1929 to 1964, and is supplemented with 25 photographs by 11 other notable social documentarians of the era.
Dorothea Lange’s empathetic images of migrant workers, suffering families, and tortured landscapes seared the faces of the Great Depression into America’s consciousness. Her most celebrated photographs of that era have become icons in American cultural history. The importance of her Depression-era work was recognized almost immediately and led to a long and fruitful collaboration with the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration (FSA). After World War II, she was the first woman photographer awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, helped found Aperture magazine, and was honored by the Museum of Modern Art with a career retrospective. Her most important achievement, however, is that her Depression-era work alleviated the suffering of the very people she chronicled by raising public awareness of the dire need for federal assistance around the country.
Lange herself had known adversity early in life. She was stricken with polio at age 7, which left her with a limp. When she was 12, her father disappeared from the scene, leaving an impoverished household behind. She rode the ferry every day with her mother from Hoboken, N.J. to lower Manhattan, and talked her way into photo courses with a range of teachers such as Arnold Genthe and Clarence White.
In 1918, Lange moved to San Francisco where she befriended photographers Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham. Through them, she met her first husband, the celebrated Western painter Maynard Dixon. Lange opened a thriving portrait studio that catered to San Francisco’s professional class and monied elite, but with the crash of 1929, she found her true calling. She began to document the many faces of America as they dealt with unprecedented hardship, either with resilience or despondence.
Lange’s working method was gentle, open, and personal. She engaged her photographic subjects in conversation, winning their confidence and their consent to be photographed. Ironically, her limp helped her to disarm and bond with her subjects because it marked her as someone who had experienced pain and suffering. Lange’s pictures typically focused on a single figure even amidst a crowd shot. Work was a constant theme of her images, either in its presence or absence, and she frequently emphasized people’s hands. In addition to her original work, Dorothea Lange’s America will display photographs by Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Doris Ulmann, Russell Lee, Mike Disfarmer and others. Each photographer used their cameras and the power of photography to effect positive change.
Dorothea Lange’s America opens at the Huntsville Museum of Art on May 15, 2o22 and closes on August 7, 2022. The exhibition will be on display in the Adtran, Jurenko and Thurber galleries of the Museum and will be included with the general price of admission. Admission can be purchased at the front desk in the lobby of the Museum or online here.