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These images reflect her personal life in addition to the constructed narratives and characters she frequently associated with in the West Coast photography scene at the time.Commenting on the importance of this early work, Barbican curator Alona Pardo says, “We wanted to anchor and position her not only as this lone ranger doing her own thing, but also as someone who was very much in dialogue with photographers in the West Coast.
There’s a lot of vernacular language that accompanies these captions, where she has transcribed, verbatim, what she has been told.” , which presented the work of numerous photographers from the 1950s to today, displaying narratives of counterculture, subcultures and minorities.
Pardo posits photography as a particularly apt medium for bringing marginalized voices to the fore, and the exhibition of Lange’s work is a welcome chapter in this programming.
Regarding Lange’s legacy, associations with such an iconic image have simultaneously been a blessing and a curse.
While the photographer’s name remains a bolded marker in the history of the medium, her career is often overshadowed by the single photograph, leaving far less room for knowledge of her greater oeuvre and impressive pursuits.
She wasn’t an objective social documentarian in the vein of Walker Evans - she was doing the job within the framework of her own humanist philosophy on life.
She understood that an image could speak louder than words, but she always anchored this image back to the individual’s own suffering - in their own words.“She was interested in showing the greater context, working in storyboards.She understood how to tell the story that needed to be shown.It was important to do this before moving into her FSA photographs, which is of course the heart of her work.” The FSA - or the Farm Security Administration - was a United States government agency created in 1937 to address the issue of rural poverty during the Great Depression.Lange was commissioned to document these repercussions photographically.What Dorothea is trying to get across in her work is the unfairness of social policy, which was not only hindering the white working class, but was also adversely affecting the African-American sharecroppers.She was commissioned by the FSA to take these photographs; she was not meant to be photographing American Filipinos or Mexican workers or African-American sharecroppers, but she does anyways.She was constantly going out and photographing the full spectrum of people on this migratory route.” Considering how Americans and refugees continue to suffer from racialized mistreatment today, the current exhibition of Lange’s work feels particularly timely.“A lot of the welfare and social reforms prevalent today date back to the Depression era,” Pardo notes.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. 210-G-C122 © Dorothea Lange This responsibility effortlessly parallels with Lange’s own impetus to expose the darker side of America, which is the main throughline coursing through the exhibition, reflected in each selected print and archival object as well as the title of the retrospective itself.