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.