The J. Paul Getty Museum will present powerful images documenting American life by photographer Dorothea Lange (American, 1895–1965). About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange feature haunting images taken during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. The photographs illustrate the stark realities of Depression-era life and offer a dramatic pictorial history of the American experience before, during, and after World War II.
This exhibition offers the opportunity to view the works of Lange, who practiced a unique style of documentary photography. The influence of her pictures can be seen in the works of countless artists, and in other media such as film and literature. The images have helped shape America's vision of its own history and people. The exhibition will include new acquisitions not previously seen by the public, as well as loans from members of the Lange family.
"Dorothea Lange is one of the most important American photographers of our time and one of the most significant women in the history of the field," said Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "Her striking, emotional images have come to define how we see and understand the Great Depression, creating both a historical record and an expressive interpretation of some of the most turbulent times in this country. By expanding our Lange holdings with recent acquisitions, we are now able to show a significant number of these famous works alongside her lesser-known images to present the entire scope of her talent and career."
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange
Featuring approximately 80 photographs drawn primarily from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange spans 40 years of the artist’s career and presents a broad range of work, including her most famous photograph, Human Erosion in California/Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936), and images of other displaced Dust Bowl farmers who epitomize the despair and uncertainty of Depression-era life. Also included are rarely seen photographs of her family and images depicting life in Asia and the Middle East. Lange’s work is a visual and emotional journey that travels from the pre-World War II pueblos of New Mexico to the concrete jungles of San Francisco’s labor strikes, through California's San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys. Throughout, Lange captures the trials and triumphs of the human condition during some of the most difficult periods in American history.
"Lange's talent is often associated with just one photograph—Migrant Mother," said Judith Keller, associate curator in the Getty Museum's department of photographs. "This exhibition seeks to present a broader picture of Lange's accomplishments in photography, and offers insight about the depth of her passion and lifelong interest in social concerns."
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange is offered in three sections. Lange and Dixon in the Southwest opens the exhibition with a series of photographs taken between 1923 and 1931 depicting family life with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon, as well as her interest in the Native American peoples of New Mexico and Arizona. Her photography in the rural Southwest allowed her to experiment with new subject matter while maintaining her preference for the portrait work she practiced in San Francisco. This experience brought new depth and dimension to Lange’s work, as can be seen in a series of 1931 prints of the Taos Indians and their ritual dances, and in Hopi Man, Arizona (1923).
The exhibition continues with The Great Depression and Wartime America, a group of photographs taken between 1935 and 1945 for the federal government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA), War Relocation Authority, and Office of War Information. Featuring several new acquisitions that have not been seen by the public, this section creates a moving document of the effects of social and political upheavals over two decades of turmoil leading from the Depression to the War. Migrant Mother (originally titled Human Erosion in California/Facing Starvation) joins a selection of images of other impoverished farm workers throughout the country. This section of photographs shows the realities of that time—workers waiting to file unemployment claims, breadlines, labor strikes, the 1942 internment of Japanese-Americans, and the appearance of "Rosie the Riveter" in California's shipyards.
Battling Illness – Continuing a Career concludes the exhibition with a selection of Lange's work of the 1950s and 1960s. Although her war effort left her exhausted and ill, Lange continued her life's work and passion. She proposed a series of photo essay ideas to picture magazines, and helped found the photography magazine Aperture. The work she completed during the twilight years of her life is represented through photographs of the Cold War family (using her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren as subjects), and other images that reflected her own impression of America's changing social landscape. As she regained her health, she expanded her portfolio with the photographs of Utah's Mormon communities that she created for Life magazine, and images she found in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt while traveling extensively with second husband, labor economist Paul Taylor.