The Oakland Museum of California owns the single most important collection of work by one of America's great photographers. And we're about to get a thrilling look at it.
A new exhibition, Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing, features more than 130 photos by the celebrated Bay Area photographer who documented and illuminated pivotal social issues of 20th-century America. The photos include vintage prints and unedited proof sheets from Lange's personal archive, which was given to the museum 50 years ago. The show runs May 13 through August 13.
Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) is probably best known for her Depression era work in the 1930s, working for the Farm Security Administration—one of F.D.R.'s New Deal programs—documenting the human toll of the Dust Bowl. But as reflected in the exhibition, she also delved deep into other topics of her times, including the Japanese-American internment, WWII, and post-war California.
Among the photos on view is her most famous image—and one of the most renowned photographs of the 20th century—Migrant Mother, Nipomo (1936), the compelling portrait of a migrant farm woman and her children. Also on view are other iconic photos, such as White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco (1933), and a number of rarely seen images. Additionally, the exhibition includes personal memorabilia and historic objects like a 1930s Kodak film box from the portrait studio Lange ran early in her career, and an envelope on which Lange noted travel expenses while on the road.
One historic object illustrates how Lange became personally engaged in the topics she documented with her camera. In a written statement that accompanied her report and original photos to the California Resettlement Administration, she lent her support to a project to establish camps with "decent housing" for migrant workers. For Lange, as the exhibition amply demonstrates, artistry and advocacy went hand-in-hand.