Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pushing Closer

The Arnold children of Michigan Hill, Thurston County, Western Washington, August 1939. The oldest boy earned the money to buy his bicycle. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

Art historian Jordan Bear has interesting piece in Bookforum on two new books about photographer Dorothea Lange.
Here's an excerpt I found particularly interestin
Of Walker Evans, the preeminent American documentarian, with whose work Lange’s would be constantly—and nearly always unfavorably—compared, she claimed, “He doesn’t go any closer than just so far . . . which can be a man’s strength.” By contrast, she said of herself, “I can never go close enough . . . I push close. It’s right for me.” Lange cast herself and Evans as representing the outer markers of documentary photography: Where Evans was detached, indifferent, even unfeeling, she was engaged, politically and emotionally, with her subjects, evincing her own, very different kind of strength....
Linda Gordon’s biography Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits...emphasizes the similarity of Lange to the responsible historian: Both produce representations that aspire to accuracy but acknowledge the inherent limitations of that pursuit. The available choices in cropping, posing, emphasis, and scale are not, Gordon claims, “so different from historians’ decisions in writing books or lesson plans.” Even in Lange’s most penetrating portraits, Gordon postulates, there remains an impervious stratum that prevents complete understanding, an outer shell that protects the agency of even the abject sitter. As close as Lange might “push,” her pictures never presume to know the entirety of what they show. And this, to Gordon’s mind, is one of the great strengths of the photographs, for it demonstrates that Lange’s notion of the documentary mode was self-critical and democratic, rejecting the fantasy of omniscience and embracing the sanctity of privacy available to even the wretched among us.
Visit bookforum.com to read the whole thing (free registration required). The two books reviewed (click for more info) are Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field, by Anne Whiston Spirn, and Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, by Linda Gordon. Might have to pick those up.

Brangin' it on home, here's a selection of Dorothea Lange photographs taken in Washington State during the month of August, 1939 – all
via the rabbit hole that is your Library of Congress:

Bulldozer contractor's car. Lewis County, near Vader.

More after the jump.

The Arnold children (also pictured in the top photo) and their mother on newly fenced and cleared land, with strawberry plants. Thurston County, Michigan Hill.

Motherless migrant children, Yakima Valley. The oldest girl seated in the doorway of the house trailer cares for the family.

"Fruit tramp," Yakima Valley.

Cheap auto camp for migratory workers waiting for the opening of the hop season. "Old fruit tramp lives in this camp." Yakima Valley, Toppenish.

Chris Adolf, his wife, six of their eight children and his teams. Yakima Valley, near Wapato.

Family who traveled by freight train. Toppenish, Yakima Valley.

On an abandoned farm in Columbia Basin. Grant County, one mile east of Quincy.

UPDATE: Kepler's Books produced a video trailer on Linda Gordon's book (see comments below). Here it is:


John Ray said...

Hi we actually did a book trailer for this and would be honored if you posted this.


Strath said...

Thanks! I added it to the post.