For the past several months, I have had a strong interest in taking photos of homeless individuals and their surroundings. Because of this newly found interest I have chosen Dorothea Lange’s work to delve into this segment of the assignment. Conventions of photography that can show a heightened sense of reality and can also distort it or misrepresent it. Lange has been quoted as saying: “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”
Lange thought of herself as a clinical observer committed to a direct, unmanipulated recording of contemporary events. White Angel Breadline was her first documentary photogragh. To me, what is striking about this photo is the elegant manner in which Lange has balanced the narrative of her image with its formal construction. Displaying a masterful ability to organize complex space, she focuses the viewer’s gaze on just one individual in the crowded pen of unemployed men lining up for food. His hands clutche a tin cup and it appears from the evidence of his worn clothes and disheveled appearance that he has been down and out for some time. Leaning on one of the wooden railings that diagonally crosses the lower quarter of the picture, he faces forward, his back to the rest of the crowd, lost inthought. His eyes are shielded from the camera’s view by the brim of his battered hat, this man emerges from this dark sea of men by virtue of his counter-positioning. His presence is emphasized by the use of light that floats over the the brim of his hat, tin mug, and his clasped hands.
By spotlighting these telling details, and by composing the principal character slightly left of centre and establishing strong tensions between the vertical and diagonal elements, Lange creates an image that is theatrical in presentation and engaging in terms of its content. She achieved a brilliant balance between a collective portrait of humanity and one of an individual. This photo speaks for itself and to its viewer.
White Angel Breadline (1933) Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland, Gift of Paul S. Taylor.
From 1935 to 1943, photographers working for the federal government produced the most enduring images of the Great Depression. Many of the eight thousand photographs taken by the so-called Farm Security Administration (FSA) were distributed by the agency to newspapers and magazines to build support for the New Deal's rural programs. These photographers presented thier rural subjects in ways that middle-class viewers could recognize and sympathize with. Attempting to overcome fears about the disorder provoked the depression, photographers chose poses and points of view that emphasized their subject's dignity, orderliness, and responsibility in the face of hardship.
Mississippi Delta Girl (1936)
Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas, (1938)
Lange’s objective was not only to document poverty but to show also the agricultural system from which it grew. She used the rhythm of the plowed ruts and ridges and the rows of plants to increase visually the size of the fields in her shots. She showed the impersonality of those enterprises where workers never met the boss and did not know many of their co-workers.
This photo is of a young Japanese boy awaiting evacuation. Lange is in all probability most famous for her work towards exposing the forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans to relocation camps post Pearl Harbor. She captured this misfortune with over 800 photographs which were impounded by the Army. Today, these photographs are available in the National Archives.