Dorothea Lange: Duplicate Prints from the 1966 Retrospective at the MOMA

18 September - 4 November 2002

Edwynn Houk Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Duplicate Prints from the 1966 Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, running from September 18 through November 2. Drawn entirely from the collections of MoMA, the prints on view were all made under Lange's direct supervision for the first retrospective of the photographer's work. This exhibition was organized at MoMA by the Museum's seminal curator of photography, John Szarkowski, in 1966. To enable the show to travel, Lange produced two identical sets of prints. While one set remains in the collections of MoMA, the duplicate set is now being deaccessioned in association with the Edwynn Houk Gallery.

The show offers a complete survey of Lange's career, starting with her celebrated work for the FSA at the time of the Great Depression. This period alone comprises half of the exhibition. A large section, however, is devoted to the rediscovery of Lange's later work from the 1950s. This work is remarkable for a modern quality of alienation and a tension in the composition which anticipate Robert Frank and the "social landscape" images of Lee Friedlander. A number of the prints are very large in scale, introducing a radical break with the personal, intimate size of photographs which was the norm at that time.


Icons of our times, Lange's moving images transcend the documentary style by raising photography to new heights of humanity and art. Her photographs of the Great Depression, such as the archetypal Migrant Mother (1936), encapsulate both the spirit of a mythmaking epoch and the epic power of the photographic image. Rife with empathy, yet guided by an almost missionary sense of the universal, Lange's art stands out, in the words of Peter Galassi (Chief Curator, Department of Photography at MoMA) for its unique balance between "symbol making" and a "visceral connection" to the subject at hand. Underlying the artist's oeuvre is a masterful command of composition whose geometrical rigor serves to heighten and concentrate the emotional power of the image into a moment of immediate impact.


Born in 1895, in New Jersey, to parents of German descent, Lange was struck by polio at age 7. This affliction, which maimed her for life, also durably shaped her vision, giving her, in the words of Pierre Borhan (Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer), a "heightened sense of dignity" and leading her to "consider courage an essential virtue". In 1914, she decided on a career as a photographer and trained with Arnold Genthe and Clarence White. In 1918, she moved to San Francisco where she opened a flourishing portrait studio. The advent of the Depression, combined with the breakup of her marriage, led to a new social awareness. In 1933, she created her first picture in the documentary vein, White Angel Breadline. With the help of her second husband, the sociologist Paul Schuster Taylor, she began in 1935 the field work that made her famous, documenting the plight of migratory workers for the Emergency Relief Administration. This led to her collaboration with the Resettlement Administration (renamed Farm Security Administration, FSA, in 1937) under Roy Stryker.


Her photographs were hailed at the time as emblematic of the New Deal spirit. Lange, however, like her colleague Walker Evans, soon found that her artistic goals conflicted with Stryker's purely documentarian approach. Relations with the FSA progressively loosened as of 1936 until the final break in 1940. That same year, Lange's personal "record of human erosion" was set down in the book An American Exodus. During World War II, Lange, trained her compassionate eye on the internment of Japanese-Americans in war camps. In collaboration with Ansel Adams, and later her son, Daniel Dixon, she began reportage work for Fortune and Life. In 1951, she participated in the creation of Aperture. Her photographs, regularly exhibited throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, were included in the landmark Family of Man show in 1955. Although plagued with recurring bouts of illness, Lange accompanied her husband throughout the 1950s on field trips to underdeveloped countries, returning with images from Asia, Latin America and Egypt. Dorothea Lange died October 11, 1965 in California, while completing preparations for her final achievement, her retrospective at MoMA.