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Dorothea Lange’s America

September 13, 2019 - January 5, 2020

If it is a cliché to suggest that art and suffering are often closely connected, it is nonetheless true that the Great Depression was a catalyst for a tremendous outburst of creative energy from America’s photographic community. The devastation wrought upon the country by the Depression inspired a host of socially conscious photographers to capture the many human stories of the time. The exhibition Dorothea Lange’s America presents these stories with 30 photographs by Dorothea Lange as well as 25 additional works by 11 other photographers working during those troubled times: Mike Disfarmer, Arnold Eagle, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Wright Morris, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shawn, Doris Ulmann, John Vachon, Willard Van Dyke and Marion Post Wolcott. Each used their cameras and the power of photography to effect positive change.

Pre-eminent among these photographers was Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Her empathetic images documented the toll that the Depression took on the nation. The evidence was seen in the long lines of desperate, jobless men, migrant workers searching for work, and impoverished families living in squalid conditions. Lange’s photographs made the human cost of the Depression personal by searing these images into America’s consciousness. Her most celebrated photographs of that era – Migrant Mother, White Angel Breadline and Migratory Cotton Picker – have since become icons of the American experience.

The importance of Lange’s Depression-era work was recognized almost immediately and led to a long and fruitful collaboration with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal’s Farm Security Administration. Following World War II, she was the first woman photographer awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, helped found Aperture magazine, and was honored by the Museum of Modern Art with a career retrospective. Her most important achievement, however, is that her photographs of the Depression served to help alleviate the suffering of the very people she chronicled. Her photographs raised public awareness of the dire need for federal assistance around the country and helped convince Congress to provide it.

All works in this exhibition are drawn from the private collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. The exhibition has been organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions.


Hear from world-renowned Dorothea Lange expert Dr. Sally Stein, who delivered her lecture “Migrant Mother, Migrant Gender” at Gilcrease on October 13, 2019. In her talk, Stein offered a new perspective on her most famous Depression-era image, Migrant Mother, and its changing reception over the last eight decades.


We’ve put an Oklahoma touch on this exhibition by transforming one of the galleries into a photographer’s darkroom to present images showcasing how the Great Depression impacted Oklahomans. The photographs in this gallery even include the personal field notes of the photographers. Learn more from Curator of History Mark Dolph.


Delve into the fascinating story behind Michael Disfarmer, a Depression-era photographer who self selected his last name in protest of becoming a farmer, featured in DOROTHEA LANGE’S AMERICA.