“Daring to Look”, is a book of the some of the work of an American 1930s photographer named Dorothea Lange.
Many no doubt will have never heard of Dorothea, but chances are extremely high that you will have seen at least one, or two of her stunning photos. They are stunning not because of their gifted photographic skill and design, but rather of the compelling story that in encased (almost wrote enshrined) in the study.
One of them was used eventually as the image on a USP stamp.
A quick Google will of course find many more, but here is a good selection.
Which also has a quick potted history of her work during the great depression and among Japanese internees during WWII.
The one thing the site doesn’t describe is her slowmoving train wreck family life, nor does it really emphasise the struggles she made to have her work recognised. But those details are well documented elesewhere.
She once said, “Every image you make, ever photograph you see, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy—an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with the subject, but by the audience.”
I’ve told the tale before, when as a little tacker with a library card I managed to get invited from the ‘junior’ section of the country library, into the mystic “adult section’. I have no idea who or why, but the photographic shelves had quite a number of portfolio size books, and I could pour over the works of the greats.
One of which was Dorothea Lange.
At the time, I had no idea of the ‘great’ depression, or the dust-bowl refugees, nor, can I say with some confidence did I register the social significance of Dorothea’s work. All I knew was that these photos said something imporant, and they had been placed in a folio selection, so, they must be good.
Better than my shots of ‘Blackie’ the cat on the verandah in the sunshine.
And somewhere in those musings on lazy weekend afternoons at the library, the concept of being able to use photography for more than just a record or a mindless selfie began to crystalise. What would emerge, a squishy blob (blog?) or a wonderful butterfly?
Later on I would learn that Dorothea also said, “It is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer, any more, than the lion tamer becomes a lion tamer.”
She was once described as a “Photographic Witneses”. Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field, contains not only photographs from her work, but also previously unpublished field notes of her work for each photo.
Perhaps those folios in the library did not just get there by accident. How wonderful is the workings of the universe sometimes.