Looking again at Dorothea Lange
Sunday’s Los Angeles Times ran a review of Anne Whiston Spirn’s Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field. The Times online edition also includes a lovely portfolio of twenty Lange photographs from the book. Times reviewer Louis P. Masur explains what is different about Spirn’s look at the Farm Security Administration work of Dorothea Lange:
Daring to Look is a hybrid work, part personal essay, part portfolio of photographs, part scholarly catalog of captions and negatives.… Spirn argues strenuously that Lange must be appreciated not solely for her portraits but for her landscapes as well, and that any consideration of Lange must take into account not only images but also words—the general notes and specific captions that the photographer wrote.
Spirn is right to refocus our attention on the landscape. Lange herself said she was trying in her work to tell the story “of a people in their relation to their institutions, to their fellowmen, and to the land.” That landscape—of farms and signs, cut-overs and crossroads, buildings and shacks—traverses these photographs whether people are present or not. There are also the internal scenes of parlors and kitchens and stored goods. Many of Lange’s photographs include doorways, the pathway between public and private, between physical and emotional landscapes.
Spirn will soon complete her own website for Daring to Look.