Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Artistic Integrity

Saturday I went to a presentation in Monterey of the work of photographer Dorothea Lange. For those who do not know, Lange was best known for her documentation of the plight of the poor of The Depression, famously the Migrant Mother. Most of this work was done on behalf of and paid for by the Roosevelt administration in support of recovery efforts. Her work was absolutely fantastic, beautiful. The presentation was given by Dan, her son. I immediately liked Dan. He presented his mother's work from a son's point of view, as he said, "unsullied by scholarship." It was touching and eloquent.

Lange spent most of her life in the San Francisco Bay area, living in the Berkeley hills. Her second husband was a professor of labor economics at UC-Berkeley. She was a friend of Ansel Adams. I got curious about Lange and started doing some Googling when I got home.

Lange said of the famous image "Migrant Mother" that she found this poor lady sitting next to a highway. Lange said that the women told her that the family had been eating frozen peas out of a field the night before. She also allegedly said that they had been selling parts off their broken down car for money for food. It was a sad story of a poor migrant family. The only problem was that hardly a word of the story was true.

Further digging turned up an article written by the migrant mother's son. He well recalled the day this picture was taken. It was true that they were migrants. It was not true that they were eating frozen peas out of a field. It was not true they were selling parts off their car for food. In fact, they had put a hole in their radiator when fixing a timingbelt, and the father had gone into a nearby town to get it fixed so that they could be on their way.

Lange had pulled up in a "shiny new car," got in the mother's face, shot a few pictures and then sped away. No conversation as related by Lange took place according to the son. The family went on to survive The Depression just fine and thrived for the remainder of their lives.

I have got to say that this makes me wonder about a number of things.

1 comment:

Ptelea said...

Very interesting. I do love this era of photography. I just picked up a handful of used photography books from this time by WPA photographers taken in New Mexico. I spend hours looking at them. Now I will be doing some of the same searches as you - more fascinating reading!

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