Thursday, 28 May 2009

Depression Times for Photography

I watched with sadness a couple of nights ago a story on the once mighty USA city of Detroit, affectionately referred to as Motown, the Motor City.

The streets are becoming deserted the report said, people are being laid off as another depression sinks in.

Is it media madness? Maybe so, maybe not. What it did though was remind me of one of my favourite photographers, Dorothea Lange, who during the last depression shut the door on her illusive and well earning portrait studio in the early 1930’s and took her camera onto the streets, to the breadlines, waterfront strikes, and down-and-out people of Depression-era San Francisco.

Her images captured emotion, reality and gave us an everlasting documentary portrait of these times. Dorothea Lange's insightful and compassionate photographs have exerted a profound influence on the development of modern documentary photography. Lange's concern for people, her appreciation of the ordinary, and the striking empathy she showed for her subjects make her unique among photographers of her day.

Lange documented the troubled exodus of farm families escaping the dust bowl as they migrated West in search of work. Lange's documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these year, with photographs such as "Migrant Mother" (featured here and one of my favourite of Lange’s images) becoming instantly recognised symbols of the migrant experience.

"You put your camera around your neck
along with putting on your shoes,
and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."
Dorothea Lange

How I wish now I could jump on a plane and fly to the people of Motown: be with them and document this time in our lives in a lovingly humane way.

View the Oakland Museum of California's entire Dorothea Lange photonegative collection online at

To view the program aired on the BAC Foreign Correspondent follow this link:


Rebecca said...

Beautiful Post. I love the links to Lange's photo collection. Very thoughtful. Thanks for posting

Melanie Surplice said...

Great article Danielle. I love the quote about photography by Dorothea Lange. How true!