Posts Tagged ‘Migrant Mother

25
Mar
20

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 9th February – 9th May 2020

MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 15/16 × 16 5/8″ (32.9 × 42.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

This image appeared in Land of the Free and later in Lange and Paul Taylor’s documentary photobook An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1941), where Lange cropped out the sixth, smaller man, perhaps to simplify the idea of strength and virility conveyed there.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas' 1937, printed 1965

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
A Half-Hour Later, Hardeman County, Texas
1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 1/8 × 15 3/16″ (30.8 × 38.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ … can be fortified by words.”

“And the assignment was… see what was really there. What does it look like, what does it feel like, what actually is the human condition.”

.
Dorothea Lange

 

“Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.”

.
Arthur Lubow

 

 

Closer and closer

While MoMA has closed temporarily due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I believe it is important to document and write about those exhibitions that would have been running during this distressing time, as a form of social inclusion, social connection if you like, in the virtual world. I know that I am feeling particularly isolated at the moment, fighting off depression, with a lack of my usual routine and coffee with friends.

Great art always inspires, engages me, makes me feel and care about the world around me. In these photographs by that most excellent of photographers Dorothea Lange, of another desperate time, The Great Depression, we can feel her sincerity and intensity, that resolute gift of seeing the world clearly, despite the abject misery that surrounds her. Fast forward future, and we see the lines of the newly unemployed, desperate, penniless, snaking around the block of the social security buildings here in Australia, this very day.

Lange’s photographs don’t need words. Words are never enough.

The faces weary, furrowed, parched under baking sun, rutted like the land, Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas (1938). Dark eyes pierce the marrow, astringent lines, heavy eyebrows, mirror, set above, tight, tight mouth, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia (July 1937). I feel what, his pain? his sadness? his despair? Hands, arms, feet, form an important part of Lange’s visual armoury, arm/ory, amour. The hand to chin of Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (March 1936); the bony arms of Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (June 1938); hand obscuring face, steely gaze, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California (1938); weathered, beaten hands, beaten, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona (November 1940). These extremities are expressions not just of her subjects, but of herself. A virtual self-portrait.

“One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery.” (Press release)

Lange “is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer”.” Moving closer, her photographs possess an un/bridled intimacy with troubled creatures. Moving closer, seeing clearly. Closer and closer, till death, parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures MoMA exhibition

 

Dorothea Lange introduction

 

Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures introduction text

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at right, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona November 1940
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Lange San Francisco Streets

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

San Francisco Streets

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at left, White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco 1933
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco
1933
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 x 8 7/8″ (27.3 x 22.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Albert M. Bender

 

 

About this photograph, one of the first made outside her studio, Lange recalled, “I was just gathering my forces and that took a little bit because I wasn’t accustomed to jostling about in groups of tormented, depressed and angry men, with a camera.”

 

Lange Government Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Government Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 showing at fifth from left bottom, Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California 1938; at fourth from left top, Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California 1938; and at fifth from left top, Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama c. 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California' 1938, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California
1938, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 8″ (24 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Grayson, San Joaquin Valley, California
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 16 15/16″ (26.3 x 43 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Regarding this picture, Dorothea Lange’s field notes report: “Grayson was a migratory agricultural labourers’ shack town. It was during the season of the pea harvest. Late afternoon about 6 o’clock. Boys were playing baseball in the road that passes this building, which was used as a church. Otherwise, this corpse, lying at the church, was alone, unattended, and unexplained.” The full negative she made there represents not just this doorway but the entire whitewashed gabled façade. The concrete steps in front of the entrance and foundation blocks are visible. Apparently the form in the doorway was what drew Lange to the scene, however; it has been suggested that she later realised this central feature was important enough to carry the composition and proceeded to concentrate on the portion of the negative with the shallow portal holding the body. She published an even more severely cut-down version in the 1940 US Camera Annual. Bearing the title Doorstep Document, it eliminates the three plain boards that frame the doorway, making the depth of the threshold less evident and the wrapped figure and worn double doors more prominent and funereal.

It is not known why Lange identified the form as a corpse rather than a homeless person. Today we are more inclined to think the latter, since such scenes are common. The relaxed, uncovered pose of the feet indicates a voluntary reclining position. Lange was also some distance away when she made the exposure. One of the playing children may have suggested the corpse idea to test its shock value, and perhaps Lange adopted it for future propaganda purposes. Grayson was just a small town southwest of Modesto, and this church was probably one of the few places of refuge it offered.

It would seem peculiar for the feet of a dead person to be exposed. Here they represent the life, the personality, of this anonymous citizen. Always sensitive to the appearance and performance of others’ feet, due to her own deformity, Lange made hundreds of photographs on the theme. This one is among the most melancholy.

Judith Keller, Dorothea Lange, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), 40. © 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama' c. 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Ex-Slave with Long Memory, Alabama
c. 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 11 15/16″ (38.5 × 30.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange 'Land of the Free'

Lange 'Land of the Free'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Archibald Macleish (American, 1892-1982)
Land of the Free
1938
Letterpress open: 9 7/16 x 13 1/8″ (24 x 33.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

Open at Lange’s Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936

 

Lange Land of the Free

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Ditched, Stalled and Stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California February 1936; and at centre, Six Tenant Farmers without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Land of the Free and An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

FOR THE ENTIRE second half of Dorothea Lange’s life, a quotation from the English philosopher Francis Bacon floated in her peripheral vision: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.” She pinned a printout of these words up on her darkroom door in 1933. It remained there until she died, at 70, in 1965 – three months before her first retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and three decades after she took the most iconic photograph in the medium’s history.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' March 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 9/16″ (28.3 x 21.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The captions used to describe Migrant Mother are as varied as the publications in which they appeared: “A destitute mother, the type aided by the WPA.” “A worker in the ‘peach bowl.'” “Draggin’-around people.” “In a camp of migratory pea-pickers, San Luis Obispo County, California.” Even in ostensibly factual settings such as newspapers, government reports, or a museum cataloguing sheet, no fixed phrase or set of words was associated with the image until 1952, when it was published as Migrant Mother.

 

Lange Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Migrant Mother / Popular Photography

Installation views of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left in the bottom photograph, Sunlit Oak c. 1957 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Sunlit Oak' c. 1957, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Sunlit Oak
c. 1957, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
30 7/8 × 41 1/8″ (78.4 × 104.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Kern County, California' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Kern County, California
1938
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 x 12 1/2″ (31.6 x 31.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Pictures of Words

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Western Addition, San Francisco, California 1951 (below); at fifth from left, Kern County, California 1938 (above); at third from right, Crossroads Store, North Carolina July 1939 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Western Addition, San Francisco, California' 1951, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Western Addition, San Francisco, California
1951, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 6″ (23.8 × 17.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Crossroads Store, North Carolina' July 1939, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Crossroads Store, North Carolina
July 1939, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 13 9/16″ (24.6 × 34.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Tractored Out, Childress County, Texas
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 12 13/16″ (23.6 x 32.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange and Taylor’s captions in An American Exodus consider the human impact of environmental crises. The one for this image reads, “Tractors replace not only mules but people. They cultivate to the very door of the houses of those whom they replace.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Road West, New Mexico' 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Road West, New Mexico
1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 13 1/16″ (24.5 × 33.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

The image was memorialised later by Robert Frank

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

 

A seminal work in documentary studies, with powerful photographs of the Depression era made by the wife and husband team of Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor. They were hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the 300,000 strong, Depression era exodus from rural America, and the struggles these migrant workers overcame in search of basic necessities. The documentary photographer and social scientist’s goal was to “use the camera as a tool of research. Upon a tripod of photographs, captions, and text we rest themes evolved out of long observations in the field. We adhere to the standards of documentary photography as we have conceived them. Quotations which accompany photographs report what the persons photographed said, not what we think might be their unspoken thoughts.” p. 6.

Text from the Abe Books website [Online] Cited 24/02/2020

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
29 3/4 × 24″ (75.6 × 61 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

“IF YOU DIE, YOU’RE DEAD – THAT’S ALL”

When it was published in An American Exodus, this portrait was captioned “If you die, you’re dead—that’s all.” This line was taken from Lange’s field notes, which quote the woman at greater length: “‘We made good money a pullin’ bolls, when we could pull. But we’ve had no work since March. . . . You can’t get no relief here until you’ve lived here a year. This county’s a hard country. They won’t help bury you here. If you die, you’re dead, that’s all.’”

 

Lange 'An American Exodus'

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

An American Exodus

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia July 1937; at second left top, The Road West, New Mexico 1938; at centre Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938; and second right, Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California February 1937
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia' July 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Young Sharecropper, Macon County, Georgia
July 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 11 3/4″ (29.8 × 29.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California' February 1937, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California
February 1937, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
16 15/16 × 15 3/4″ (43 × 40.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. 'An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion' New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939

 

Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor
An American Exodus. A Record of Human Erosion
New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939
First edition. Hardcover
Letterpress open: 10 1/4 x 15 3/8″ (26 x 39.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

 

Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange

John Szarkowski was about 13 when he saw an image by Dorothea Lange that “enormously impressed” him. After he had become the powerful director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, he would recall that he took it to be a “picture of the hard-faced old woman, looking out of the handsome oval window of the expensive automobile with her hand to her face as if the smell of the street was offending her, and I thought, ‘Isn’t that marvellous?’ That a photographer can pin that specimen to the board as some kind of exotic moth and show her there in her true colours.”

A quarter of a century after his initial encounter with the photo, working in 1965 with Lange on his first one-artist retrospective at MoMA, he read her full caption for “Funeral Cortege, End of an Era in a Small Valley Town, California,” and realised that the fancy car belonged to an undertaker and that the expression he took for haughtiness was grief.

The wry confession of his mistake, which Szarkowski made in 1982 to an interviewer, is not mentioned in “Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures,” which opened Sunday at MoMA. But it illustrates the curatorial theme: Lange’s pictures require verbal commentary to be read legibly.

Curiously, though, the strength of Lange’s photographs at MoMA undercuts the exhibition’s concept. With or without the support of words, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), created some of the greatest images of the unsung struggles and overlooked realities of American life. Her most iconic photograph, which came to be called “Migrant Mother,” portrays a grave-faced woman in ragged clothing in Nipomo, Calif., in 1936, with two small children burying their faces against her shoulders, and a baby nestled in her lap. It is one of the most famous pictures of all time.

Yet Lange was not simply a Depression photographer. As this revelatory, heartening exhibition shows, she was an artist who made remarkable pictures throughout a career that spanned more than four decades. The photos she took in 1942 of interned Japanese-Americans (which the government suppressed until 1964) display state-administered cruelty with stone-cold clarity: One dignified man in a three-piece suit and overcoat is wearing a tag, like a steer, while disembodied white hands on either side examine and prod him. Her prescient photographs of environmental degradation portray the human cost of building a dam that flooded the Berryessa Valley near Napa. Her empathetic portraits of African-American field hands shine a light on a system of peonage that predated and outlasted the 1930s.

Nevertheless, her fame rests largely on the indelible images she made, starting in 1935, as an employee of the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the Farm Security Administration, both under the leadership of Roy Stryker. Lange endured a fractious relationship with Stryker, who seemed deeply discomfited by a strong-minded woman. He fired her in 1940, saying she was “uncooperative.” To his credit, however, he always acknowledged that “Migrant Mother” was the key image of the Depression.

Seeking a deeper understanding of the economic crisis, Lange and her collaborators in the field interviewed her subjects, and she incorporated their words into her captions. She was the first photographer to do that systematically. The show’s curator, Sarah Hermanson Meister, who drew from the museum’s collection of more than 500 Lange prints, includes many of the captions in the wall labels, in an installation that is patterned after Szarkowski’s 1966 Lange show. (The artist died of esophageal cancer before it opened.)

Lange took so many memorable photographs that it is challenging to shortlist them. One of the greatest is at the entrance to the MoMA show: “Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona” (1940). The farmworker’s hands are close to the lens of the camera. One hand is holding a wooden beam; it could be the implement of his impending crucifixion. The other hand, with its open palm and splayed fingers, covers his mouth. Unforgettably powerful, the photograph resembles self-portraits by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, who shared Lange’s interest in extremities – hands and feet, and also, wretched misery. …

Many wonderful Lange photographs are not overtly political. “Bad Trouble Over the Weekend” (1964) is a close-up of a woman’s hands folded over her face; one hand bears a wedding band and holds an unlit cigarette. (The subject was her daughter-in-law.) And Lange photographed multitrunked oaks with the same acuity as fingered hands.

The fame of “Migrant Mother” has cropped Lange’s reputation unfairly. She is a key link in a chain of photographic history. From Evans, she learned how to frame precise images of clapboard churches. But unlike Evans, who usually preferred to keep a distance and capture a building’s architectural integrity, Lange always wanted, as she said when describing how she made “Migrant Mother,” to move “closer and closer.” Her 1938 photograph, “Death in the Doorway, ” of a church entrance in the San Joaquin Valley reveals a blanketed corpse that someone, probably unable to afford a burial, has deposited. Evans would never have gone there.

In turn, Lange was revered by the documentary photographers who followed her. The greatest of them, Robert Frank, paid her direct homage in “The Americans,” shooting from the same vantage point the New Mexico highway that Lange had memorialized in “An American Exodus.”

But photography was heading off in a different direction. A year after his Lange exhibition, Mr. Szarkowski mounted “New Documents,” which introduced a younger generation of American photographers: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Speaking to me in 2003, he explained that these photographers were “rejecting Dorothea’s attitude” that “documentary photography was supposed to do some good” and instead using the camera “to explore their own experience and their own life and not to persuade somebody else what to do or what to work for.” That notion was hardly foreign to Lange. In a picture of a lame person, “Walking Wounded, Oakland” (1954), she found, as did the New Documents artists, a real-life subject that mirrored her own life.

One happy consequence of our dismal political moment is a rediscovery of Lange. In 2018, a major exhibition from her archive was staged at the Barbican Center in London and the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

Perhaps now younger photographers will be inspired to pick up her banner. The need is all too apparent. Where is the photographer of cleareyed empathy and consummate artistry to depict the disquiet, hopelessness and desperate fortitude that riddle the American body politic of today? Who will bring us our “Migrant Mother”?

Arthur Lubow. “Empathy and Artistry: Rediscovering Dorothea Lange,” on The New York Times website Feb. 13, 2020 [Online] Cited 24/03/2020.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' November 1940

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
November 1940
Gelatin silver print
19 15/16 × 23 13/16″ (50.7 × 60.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange '12 Million Black Voices'

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Edwin Rosskam (American, 1903-1985)
Richard Wright (American, 1908-1960)
12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States
1941
Offset lithography open: 10 1/4 x 14 1/2″ (26 x 36.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art Library

 

Lange 12 Million Black Voices

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

12 Million Black Voices

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
9 ¾ x 7 11/16″ (24.7 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 7/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.5 × 33.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

During World War II, at the height of antiJapanese sentiment, Lange documented an explicitly racist billboard advertising the Southern Pacific railroad company. Rather than portraying the billboard in isolation, she disrupted the frame with a handmade sign that seems to undermine the commodification of such political sentiments.

 

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at second left top, One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco 1942 (below); and at second left bottom, Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco April 6, 1942 (below)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco
1942
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 × 9 13/16″ (33.4 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco' April 6, 1942, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Just About to Step into the Bus for the Assembly Center, San Francisco
April 6, 1942, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 × 9 13/16″ (26.3 × 25 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. On view from February 9 through May 9, 2020, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with River Bullock, Beaumont & Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, assisted by Madeline Weisburg, Modern Women’s Fund Twelve-Month Intern, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Toward the end of her life, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) remarked, “All photographs – not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ and every photograph really is documentary and belongs in some place, has a place in history – can be fortified by words.” Organised loosely chronologically and spanning her career, the exhibition groups iconic works together with lesser known photographs and traces their varied relationships to words: from early criticism on Lange’s photographs to her photo-essays published in LIFE magazine, and from the landmark photobook An American Exodus to her examination of the US criminal justice system. The exhibition also includes groundbreaking photographs of the 1930s – including Migrant Mother (1936) – that inspired pivotal public awareness of the lives of sharecroppers, displaced families, and migrant workers during the Great Depression. Through her photography and her words, Lange urged photographers to reconnect with the world – a call reflective of her own ethos and working method, which coupled an attention to aesthetics with a central concern for humanity.

“It seems both timely and urgent that we renew our attention to Lange’s extraordinary achievements,” said Sarah Meister. “Her concern for less fortunate and often overlooked individuals, and her success in using photography (and words) to address these inequities, encourages each of us to reflect on our own civic responsibilities. It reminds me of the unique role that art – and in particular photography – can play in imagining a more just society.”

The exhibition begins in 1933, when Lange, then a portrait photographer, first brought her camera outside into the streets of San Francisco. Lange’s increasing interest in the everyday experience of people she encountered eventually led her to work for government agencies, supporting their objective to raise public awareness and to provide aid to struggling farmers and those devastated by the Great Depression. During this time, Lange photographed her subjects and kept notes that formed the backbone of government reports; these and other archival materials will be represented alongside corresponding photographs throughout the exhibition. Lange’s commitment to social justice and her faith in the power of photography remained constant throughout her life, even when her politics did not align with those who were paying for her work. A central focus of the exhibition is An American Exodus, a 1939 collaboration between Lange and Paul Schuster Taylor, her husband and an agricultural economist. As an object and as an idea, An American Exodus highlights the voices of her subjects by pairing first-person quotations alongside their pictures. Later, Lange’s photographs continued to be useful in addressing marginalised histories and ongoing social concerns. Throughout her career as a photographer for the US Government and various popular magazines, Lange’s pictures were frequently syndicated and circulated outside of their original context. Lange’s photographs of the 1930s helped illustrate Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941), and her 1950s photographs of a public defender were used to illustrate Minimizing Racism in Jury Trials (1969), a law handbook published after Black Panther Huey P. Newton’s first trial during a time of great racial strife.

This collection-based exhibition would not be possible had it not been for Lange’s deep creative ties to the Museum during her lifetime. MoMA’s collection of Lange photographs was built over many decades and remains one of the definitive collections of her work. Her relationship to MoMA’s Department of Photography dates to her inclusion in its inaugural exhibition, in 1940 which was curated by the department’s director, Edward Steichen. Lange is a rare artist in that both Steichen and his successor, John Szarkowski, held her in equally high esteem. More than a generation after her first retrospective, organised by Szarkowski at MoMA in 1966, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures uses both historical and contemporary words to encourage a more nuanced understanding of words and pictures in circulation.

Press release from MoMA website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Richmond, California' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Richmond, California
1942
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 6 5/8″ (18.8 x 16.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

The Family of Man and World War II

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left, Richmond, California 1942 (above)
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Café near Pinole, California' 1956, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Café near Pinole, California
1956, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 × 16 7/8″ (30.3 × 42.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
17 1/16 × 14 15/16″ (43.3 × 37.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Lange Public Defender

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Public Defender and Late Work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Defendant, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 3/8 x 10 1/8″ (31.4 x 25.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
The Witness, Alameda County Courthouse, California
1955-57, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 8 1/2″ (26.2 × 21.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

Lange Late Work

 

Installation view of 'Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures', The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 - May 9, 2020

 

Late work

Installation view of Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 9, 2020 – May 9, 2020 with at left Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco 1956, and at third left Walking Wounded, Oakland, 1954
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: John Wronn

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Walking Wounded, Oakland' 1954, printed c. 1958

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Walking Wounded, Oakland
1954, printed c. 1958
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 1/2″ (19 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist

 

 

Lange’s choice of title for this image was almost certainly influenced by her own experience with disability. As a child she had contracted polio, which left her with a permanent limp. Toward the end of her life she reflected, “No one who hasn’t lived the life of a semi-cripple knows how much that means. I think it perhaps was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me. All those things at once. I’ve never gotten over it and I am aware of the force and the power of it.”

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco' 1956

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Man Stepping from Cable Car, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 7/16″ (24.8 x 16.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt' 1963, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Woman in Purdah, Upper Egypt
1963, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 × 15 15/16″ (31.6 × 40.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Bad Trouble Over the Weekend' 1964, printed 1965

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Bad Trouble Over the Weekend
1964, printed 1965
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 5 3/4″ (18.2 × 14.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase

 

 

Lange grappled extensively with the titles of the photographs included in her 1966 MoMA retrospective. In a letter to the curator, John Szarkowski, she wrote, “I propose also to caption each print separately, beyond time and place, sometimes with two or three words, sometimes with a quotation, sometimes with a brief commentary. This textual material I shall be working on for some time, on and of.” Rather than identify the subject of this photo as her daughter-in-law, Lange’s title extends the image’s affective reach.

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) '“Guilty, Your Honor,” Alameda County Courthouse, California' 1955-57, printed 1965

 

 

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20
Aug
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 22nd June – 2nd September 2018

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' 1940

 

Dorothea Lange
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
1940
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Damaged, desperate and displaced

I am writing this short text on a laptop in Thailand which keeps jumping lines and mispelling words. The experience is almost as disorienting as the photographs of Dorothea Lange, with their anguished angles and portraits of despair. Her humanist, modernist pictures capture the harsh era of The Great Depression and the 1930s in America, allowing a contemporary audience to imagine what it must have been like to walk along blistering roads with five children, not knowing where your next meal or drink of water is coming from.

Like Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis from an earlier era, Lange’s photographs are about the politics of seeing. They are about human beings in distress and how photography can raise awareness of social injustice and disenfranchisement in the name of cultural change.

#dorothealange @barbicancentre

.
Many thankx to the Barbican Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Dorothea Lange took this photograph in 1936, while employed by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, formed during the Great Depression to raise awareness of and provide aid to impoverished farmers. In Nipomo, California, Lange came across Florence Owens Thompson and her children in a camp filled with field workers whose livelihoods were devastated by the failure of the pea crops. Recalling her encounter with Thompson years later, she said, “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction.”1 One photograph from that shoot, now known as Migrant Mother, was widely circulated to magazines and newspapers and became a symbol of the plight of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression.

As Lange described Thompson’s situation, “She and her children had been living on frozen vegetables from the field and wild birds the children caught. The pea crop had frozen; there was no work. Yet they could not move on, for she had just sold the tires from the car to buy food.”2 However, Thompson later contested Lange’s account. When a reporter interviewed her in the 1970s, she insisted that she and Lange did not speak to each other, nor did she sell the tires of her car. Thompson said that Lange had either confused her for another farmer or embellished what she had understood of her situation in order to make a better story.

Text from the MoMA Learning website

 

  1. Dorothea Lange, “The Assignment I’ll Never Forget,” Popular Photography 46 (February, 1960). Reprinted in Photography, Essays and Images, ed. Beaumont Newhall (New York: The Museum of Modern Art), 262-65
  2. Dorothea Lange, paraphrased in Karin Becker Ohm, Dorothea Lange and the Documentary Tradition (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1980), 79

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London showing Dorothea Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California 1936
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.” (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

The images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5″ film. It is not possible to determine on the basis of the negative numbers (which were assigned later at the Resettlement Administration) the order in which the photographs were taken.

Text from The Library of Congress website

 

Florence Owens Thompson: The Story of the “Migrant Mother” 2014

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s; in 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognized her from the 40-year-old photograph.[10] A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it, she didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures, she said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”[2]

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”[11]

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”, she said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

Florence Owens Thompson on the WikiVisually website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'White Angel Breadline, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange
White Angel Breadline, San Francisco
1933
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

“There are moments such as these when time stands still and all you do is hold your breath and hope it will wait for you. And you just hope you will have enough time to get it organised in a fraction of a second on that tiny piece of sensitive film. Sometimes you have an inner sense that you have encompassed the thing generally. You know then that you are not taking anything away from anyone: their privacy, their dignity, their wholeness.” ~ Dorothea Lange 1963

Davis K F 1995, The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Hallmark Cards Inc, Missouri p. 20.

 

White angel breadline, San Francisco is Lange’s first major image that encapsulates both her sense of compassion and ability to structure a photograph according to modernist principles. The diagonals of the fence posts and the massing of hats do not reduce this work to the purely formal – the figure in the front middle of the image acts as a lightening rod for our emotional engagement.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

There was a real “White Angel” behind the breadline that served the needy men photographed by Dorothea Lange. She was a widow named Lois Jordan. Mrs. Jordan, who gave herself the name White Angel, established a soup kitchen during the Great Depression to feed those who were unemployed and destitute. Relying solely on donations, she managed to supply meals to more than one million men over a three-year period.

Jordan’s soup kitchen occupied a junk-filled lot in San Francisco located on the Embarcadero near Filbert Street. This area was known as the White Angel Jungle. The Jungle was not far from Lange’s studio. As she began to change direction from portrait to documentary photography, Lange focused her lens on the poignant scenes just beyond her window. White Angel Breadline is the result of her first day’s work to document Depression-era San Francisco. Decades later, Lange recalled: “[White Angel Breadline] is my most famed photograph. I made that on the first day I ever went out in an area where people said, ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ It was the first day that I ever made a photograph on the street.”

Text from the Arts Edge website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Drought Refugees' c. 1935

 

Dorothea Lange
Drought Refugees
c. 1935
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Family walking on highway - five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs, Oklahoma' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Family walking on highway – five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs, Oklahoma
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Cars on the Road' August 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Cars on the Road
August 1936
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Dust Bowl, Grain Elevator, Everett, Texas' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Dust Bowl, Grain Elevator, Everett, Texas
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

 

This summer, Barbican Art Gallery stages the first ever UK retrospective of one of the most influential female photographers of the 20th century, the American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). A formidable woman of unparalleled vigour and resilience, the exhibition charts Lange’s outstanding photographic vision from her early studio portraits of San Francisco’s bourgeoisie to her celebrated Farm Security Administration work (1935-1939) that captured the devastating impact of the Great Depression on the American population. Rarely seen photographs of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War are also presented as well as the later collaborations with fellow photographers Ansel Adams and Pirkle Jones documenting the changing face of the social and physical landscape of 1950s America. Opening 22 June at Barbican Art Gallery, Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is part of the Barbican’s 2018 season, The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing encompasses over 300 objects from vintage prints and original book publications to ephemera, field notes, letters, and documentary film. Largely chronological, the exhibition presents eight series in Lange’s oeuvre spanning from 1919 to 1957.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for our visitors to see the first UK survey of the work of such a significant photographer. Dorothea Lange is undoubtedly one of the great photographers of the twentieth century and the issues raised through her work have powerful resonance with issues we’re facing in society today. Staged alongside contemporary photographer Vanessa Winship as part of The Art of Change, these two shows are unmissable.”

Opening the exhibition are Lange’s little known early portrait photographs taken during her time running a successful portrait studio in San Francisco between 1919 and 1935. Lange was at the heart of San Francisco’s creative community and her studio became a centre in which bohemian and artistic friends gathered after hours, including Edward Weston, Anne Brigman, Alma Lavenson, Imogen Cunningham, and Willard van Dyke. Works from this period include intimate portraits of wealthy West Coast families as well as of Lange’s inner circle, counting amongst others photographer Roi Partridge and painter Maynard Dixon, Lange’s first husband and father of her two sons.

The Great Depression in the early 1930s heralded a shift in her photographic language as she felt increasingly compelled to document the changes visible on the streets of San Francisco. Taking her camera out of the studio, she captured street demonstrations, unemployed workers, and breadline queues. These early explorations of her social documentary work are also on display.

The exhibition charts Lange’s work with the newly established historical division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the government agency tasked with the promotion of Roosevelt’s New Deal programme. Alongside Lange, the FSA employed a number of photographers, including Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and Arthur Rothstein, to document living conditions across America during the Great Depression: from urban poverty in San Francisco to tenant farmers driven off the land by dust storms and mechanisation in the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas; the plight of homeless families on the road in search of better livelihoods in the West; and the tragic conditions of migrant workers and camps across California. Lange used her camera as a political tool to critique themes of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement, and to effect government relief.

Highlights in this section are, among others, a series on sharecroppers in the Deep South that exposes relations of race and power, and the iconic Migrant Mother, a photograph which has become a symbol of the Great Depression, alongside images of vernacular architecture and landscapes, motifs often overlooked within Lange’s oeuvre. Vintage prints in the exhibition are complemented by the display of original publications from the 1930s to foreground the widespread use of Lange’s FSA photographs and her influence on authors including John Steinbeck, whose ground-breaking novel The Grapes of Wrath was informed by Lange’s photographs. Travelling for many months at a time and working in the field, she collaborated extensively with her second husband Paul Schuster Taylor, a prominent social economist and expert in farm labour with whom she published the seminal photo book An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in 1939, also on display in the exhibition.

The exhibition continues with rarely seen photographs of the internment of more than 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent that Lange produced on commission for the War Relocation Authority following the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Lange’s critical perspective of this little discussed chapter in US history however meant that her photographs remained unpublished during the war and stored at the National Archives in Washington. It is the first time that this series will be shown comprehensively outside of the US and Canada.

Following her documentation of the Japanese American internment, Lange produced a photographic series of the wartime shipyards of Richmond, California with friend and fellow photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Lange and Adams documented the war effort in the shipyards for Fortune magazine in 1944, recording the explosive increase in population numbers and the endlessly changing shifts of shipyard workers. Capturing the mass recruitment of workers, Lange turned her camera on both female and black workers, for the first time part of the workforce, and their defiance of sexist and racist attitudes.

The exhibition features several of Lange’s post-war series, when she photographed extensively in California. Her series Public Defender (1955-1957) explores the US legal defence system for the poor and disadvantaged through the work of a public defender at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Death of a Valley (1956-57), made in collaboration with photographer Pirkle Jones, documents the disappearance of the small rural town of Monticello in California’s Berryessa Valley as a consequence of the damming of the Putah Creek. Capturing the destruction of a landscape and traditional way of life, the photographs testify to Lange’s environmentalist politics and have not been displayed or published since the 1960s.

The exhibition concludes with Lange’s series of Ireland (1954), the first made outside the US. Spending six weeks in County Clare in western Ireland, Lange captured the experience of life in and around the farming town of Ennis in stark and evocative photographs that symbolise Lange’s attraction to the traditional life of rural communities.

An activist, feminist and environmentalist, Lange used her camera as a political tool to critique themes of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement that bear great resonance with today’s world, a prime example of which is her most iconic image the Migrant Mother (1936). Working in urban and rural contexts across America and beyond, she focused her lens on human suffering and hardship to create compassionate and piercing portraits of people as well as place in the hope to forge social and political reform – from the plight of sharecroppers in the Deep South to Dust Bowl refugees trekking along the highways of California in search of better livelihoods.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is organised by the Oakland Museum of California. The European presentation has been produced in collaboration with Barbican Art Gallery, London and Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Press release from the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Left: Dorothea Lange. Displaced Tennant Farmers, Goodlet, Hardeman Co., Texas 1937. ‘All displaced tenant farmers, the oldest 33. None able to vote because of Texas poll tax. They support an average of four persons each on $22.80 a month’. Second left: Dorothea Lange. Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Second left top: Dorothea Lange. Mexican field labourer at station in Sacramento after 5 day trip from Mexico City. Imported by arrangements between Mexican and US governments to work in sugar beets. 6 October 1942. Second left bottom: Dorothea Lange. Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California. March 1937. Right: Dorothea Lange. Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma. 1936

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California' March 1937

 

Dorothea Lange
Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California
March 1937
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange. 'San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets. Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C122

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Centerville, California. This evacuee stands by her baggage as she waits for evacuation bus' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Centerville, California. This evacuee stands by her baggage as she waits for evacuation bus. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C241

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. An evacuee is shown in the lath house sorting seedlings for transplanting' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. An evacuee is shown in the lath house sorting seedlings for transplanting. These plants are year-old seedlings from the Salinas Experiment Station
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-GC737

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
July 3, 1942
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains
c. 1935
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Sacramento, California. College students of Japanese ancestry' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Sacramento, California. College students of Japanese ancestry who have been evacuated from Sacramento to the Assembly Center
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-GC471

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

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Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS

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01
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

Many thankx to Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography, drawn from the classic modernist period of the 1920s-50s. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, including portraits of Matisse, Picasso, and Breton. With over 70 artists and nearly 150 rare vintage prints on show from seminal figures including Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, and Aleksandr Rodchenko, this is a chance to take a peek inside Elton John’s home and delight in seeing such masterpieces of photography.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand
Wall Street, New York
1915
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

Tate Modern presents a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection, drawn from one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography. This unrivalled selection of classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists, including seminal figures such as Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Man Ray, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen among many others. The exhibition consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves, offering a unique opportunity to see remarkable works up close. The quality and depth of the collection allows the exhibition to tell the story of modernist photography in this way for the first time in the UK. It also marks the beginning of a long term relationship between Tate and The Sir Elton John Collection, as part of which Sir Elton and David Furnish have agreed to give important works to the nation.

The Radical Eye introduces a crucial moment in the history of photography – an exciting rupture often referred to as the ‘coming of age’ of the medium, when artists used photography as a tool through which they could redefine and transform visions of the modern world. Technological advancements gave artists the freedom to experiment and test the limits of the medium and present the world through a new, distinctly modern visual language. This exhibition reveals how the timeless genres of the portrait, nude and still life were reimagined through the camera during this period, also exploring photography’s unique ability to capture street life and architecture from a new perspective.

Featuring portraits of great cultural figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston, the exhibition gives insight into the relationships and inner circles of the avant-garde. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, depicting key surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst alongside artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Ground-breaking experimentation both in the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Herbert Bayer’s photomontage and Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, examine how artists pushed the accepted conventions of portraiture.

As life underwent rapid changes in the 20th century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White employed the ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis – techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus. The move towards abstraction is also explored, from isolated architectural elements to camera-less photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.

A dedicated section of the exhibition looks at the new approaches that emerged in capturing the human form, highlighted in rare masterpieces such as André Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917, while Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 feature in a large presentation dedicated to the Still Life. The important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication is demonstrated in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10 November 2016 until 7 May 2017. It is curated by Shoair Mavlian with Simon Baker and Newell Harbin, Director of The Sir Elton John Photography Collection. The exhibition is accompanied by an exclusive audio tour of the exhibition featuring commentary from Sir Elton John, and a major new catalogue from Tate Publishing including an interview with Sir Elton John by Jane Jackson.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Edward Weston. 'White Door, Hornitos, California' 1940

 

Edward Weston
White Door, Hornitos, California
1940
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“We possess an extraordinary instrument for reproduction. But photography is much more than that. Today it is … bringing something entirely new into the world.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, 1932

 

 

Artists in the modernist period explored what the camera could do that the human eye alone could not, and how this could be harnessed to present a new modern perspective on the world. Artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy proclaimed that photography could radically change not just what, but how we see. He called this the ‘new vision’. Rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself, from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create new realities through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper.

This re-evaluation of photography coincided with a period of upheaval. War, revolution and economic depression led to mass movements of people and great social change. The idea of the avant-garde took hold and dada and surrealism emerged, challenging both the art and social norms that had come before. At the same time, new art schools such as the Bauhaus in Germany and Vkhutemas in Russia fostered the role of the professional artist and challenged divisions between art and design.

The Radical Eye is arranged thematically and charts a changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself, irrespective of what it represents. The many vintage prints in this exhibition – made soon after the photographs were taken – give a rare insight into the artists’ processes and creative decisions, and foreground the photograph as a physical object. All works are shown in the frames in which they are displayed in the home of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Together, the works in this exhibition show how photography pushed the boundaries of the possible, changing the world through the ways in which it was seen and understood. ‘Knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike,’ wrote Moholy-Nagy in 1927, foreseeing the cultural dominance of the photographic image. This extraordinary period still impacts how we, the photo-literate future, read and create images today.

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain
Sunbaker
1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“They collect themselves. Carefully, as if tying a cravat, they compose their features. Insolent, serious and conscious of their looks they turn around to face the world.”

.
From ‘Men before the Mirror’, published alongside portraits by Man Ray, 1934

 

 

Portraits

Modernist portraiture harnessed photography’s capacity to render an accurate likeness in clear, sharp focus and detail. But at the same time, artists and sitters pushed the conventions of portraiture with innovations in pose, composition and cropping.

Many of the portraits in this room are of artists, writers and musicians, giving a cross section of key cultural players of the time. Issues of control and collaboration arise particularly when the subject is an artist, raising the question of who is responsible for conveying the sitter’s persona. The modernist period also saw a boom of the illustrated press. Magazines reproduced photographic portraits of well-known figures which were instrumental in shaping their public images.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1922

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1922
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Nusch Éluard' 1928

 

Man Ray
Nusch Éluard
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

 

Nusch Éluard (born Maria Benz; June 21, 1906 – November 28, 1946) was a French performer, model and surrealist artist…

Nusch arrived in France as a stage performer, variously described as a small-time actress, a traveling acrobat, and a “hypnotist’s stooge”. She met Paul Éluard in 1930 working as a model, married him in 1934, produced surrealist photomontage and other work, and is the subject of “Facile,” a collection of Éluard’s poetry published as a photogravure book, illustrated with Man Ray’s nude photographs of her.

She was also the subject of several cubist portraits and sketches by Pablo Picasso in the late 1930s, and is said to have had an affair with him. Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She died in 1946 in Paris, collapsing in the street due to a massive stroke.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Adolph de Meyer. 'For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)' 1931

 

Adolph de Meyer
For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)
1931
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Edward Weston. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Silver gelatin print
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography

 

George Platt Lynes. 'A Forgotten Model' c. 1937

 

George Platt Lynes
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks' c. 1945

 

Man Ray
Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Irving Penn. 'Salvador Dali in New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn
Salvador Dali in New York
1947
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

“The enemy of photography is convention, the fixed rules ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”

.
László Moholy-Nagy, c. 1940

 

 

Experiments

This was not a period of discovery but of rediscovery. Artists were rewriting the preceding century’s rules of photographic technique, harnessing ‘mistakes’ such as distortions and double exposures, or physically manipulating the printed image, cutting, marking and recombining photographs. These interventions could occur at any point in the process, from taking the image to the final print.

Used in portraiture, such experiments allowed for more psychologically charged representations. However, the transformative power of a particular technique often becomes much more important than the particular subject of the image. Above all, the rich creative possibilities of the photographic process come to the fore. While artists were seriously investigating the medium, the results are often surprising and playful.

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© DACS 2016

 

Otto Umbehr. "Katz" - Cat 1927

 

Otto Umbehr
“Katz” – Cat
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/DACS 2016

 

Josef Breitenbach. 'Patricia, New York' c. 1942

 

Josef Breitenbach
Patricia, New York
c. 1942
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

 

“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

.
Edward Weston, 1924

 

 

Bodies

Experimental approaches to shooting, cropping and framing could transform the human body into something unfamiliar. Photographers started to focus on individual parts of the body, their unconventional crops drawing attention to shape and form, accentuating curves and angles. Fragmented limbs and flesh were depersonalised and could be treated like a landscape or still life, dissolving distinctions between different genres. Thanks to faster shutter speeds and new celluloid roll film, photographers could also freeze the body in motion outside of the studio for the first time, capturing dancers and swimmers with a clarity impossible for the naked eye.

 

André Kertész. 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917' 1917

 

André Kertész
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917
1917
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz
Movement Study
1925
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2016

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray
Noire et Blanche
1926
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Glass Tears (Les Larmes)' 1932

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Glass Tears (Les Larmes)
1932
Gelatin silver print on paper
229 x 298 mm
Collection Elton John
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Man Ray. 'Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray
Dora Maar
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Nino Migliori. 'Il Tuffatore' (The Diver) 1951

 

Nino Migliori
‘Il Tuffatore’ (The Diver)
1951
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

“The documentary photographer is trying to speak to you in terms of everyone’s experience.”

.
Dorothea Lange, 1934

 

 

Documents

During the 1930s, photographers refined the formula for what we now know as social documentary. To compel the public to look at less palatable aspects of contemporary society they married creative manipulation with an appeal to viewers’ trust in the photograph as an objective visual record. This combination proved itself uniquely capable of eliciting empathy but is fraught with artistic and ethical complexity. These works highlight the vexed position of documentary photographs: historical evidence, instruments of propaganda and, latterly, works of art.

The development of new technology – particularly the portable camera and roll film – allowed photographers to capture spontaneous moments unfolding in the everyday world. Taking viewers into neighbourhoods where they might never set foot, street photography and documentary opened up new perspectives socially as much as visually.

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Dorothea Lange. 'A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Christ or Chaos?' 1946

 

Walker Evans
Christ or Chaos?
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Walker Evans Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting.”

.
Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1920s

 

 

Objects, Perspectives, Abstractions

The subjects and approaches of modernist photography vary widely, but are united by a fascination with the medium itself. Every image asks what photography is capable of and how it can be pushed further. This final room brings together three interlinked approaches. It shows the still life genre reimagined by photographers who used the technical capabilities of the camera to reveal the beauty of everyday things. Objects captured at unconventional angles or extreme close-up become strange, even unrecognisable.

A similar effect of defamiliarisation was accomplished by taking photographs from radically new perspectives, positioning a camera at the point of view of the ‘worm’s eye’ or ‘bird’s eye’. This created extreme foreshortening that transformed photographs from descriptive images of things into energetic compositions hovering between abstraction and representation.

Abstraction pushes against photography’s innate ability to record objectively. Radical techniques such as cameraless image-making simplified the medium to the point of capturing the play of light on photosensitive paper. By stripping it back to its most basic components, artists celebrated photography, not as a tool for reproduction, but as a creative medium capable of producing new imagery.

 

Alexander Rodchenko. 'Shukov Tower' 1920

 

Alexander Rodchenko
Shukov Tower
1920
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive, DACS, RAO 2016

 

Edward Steichen. 'A Bee on a Sunflower' c. 1920

 

Edward Steichen
A Bee on a Sunflower
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. "Rayograph" 1923

 

Man Ray
“Rayograph”
1923
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandelier, Corn and Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti
Bandelier, Corn and Sickle
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Werner Mantz. 'Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928'

 

Werner Mantz
Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'George Washington Bridge' 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White
George Washington Bridge
1933
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy
View from the Berlin tower
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Margaret de Patta. 'Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice' 1939

 

Margaret de Patta
Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice
1939
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Estate of Margaret de Patta

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday –  Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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