Saturday Evening Post #84 : Daring to Look- The Work of a Photographic Witness

“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.

Here is a link to see, “Migrant Mother,
Oh, you’ll say, I’ve seen that before.
And another to “White Angel Breadline

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.


10 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #84 : Daring to Look- The Work of a Photographic Witness

  1. I have admired Dorothea’s work for some time. and yes, it is that bit of self in the image made that makes the connection with subject and viewer. Lovely to read of your reading and viewing in the library, and to ponder how those seeds that were planted grew and produced wonderful fruit in the form of your images!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. G,day David, I must be getting old, as I keep musing on things in the past, and probably paint them in a much more rosey hue than they probably were. Still if that library was still to exist (not), and the shelves hadn’t moved, I could easily pick up the folios without looking at the shelves.


    1. Hello Ashley, there is a bit of a story with the Collared Sparrowhawk, it has just made a few passes at a couple of recently fledged Black-shouldered Kites. No danger, but it gave the youngsters a new experience.

      Hard to judge Dorothea’s work from such a distance, and much of her work for the US Agricultural Offices, is still buried in archives that may never see the light of day.

      She also said,
      “I’ve never not been sure that I was a photographer any more than you would not be sure you were yourself. I was a photographer, or wanting to be a photographer, or beginning – but some phase of photographer I’ve always been.”

      I can’t ever remember wanting to be anything but involved in photography. (of which there are so many forms).
      By some way, most of my life has had some connection to things photographic. I ddn’t dream of being a doctor, or lawyer, or electrician or shop keeper.
      It’s funny because everytime I strayed off into some other form or ‘career’ path, eventually I found myself with a camera in hand. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you David for another interesting read. The last sentence made me smile and ponder…
    And (of course!) the Collared Sparrowhawk photo is magnificent.


    1. Hi Adam, there are some under the hood changes going on with WordPress. So that might explain. I don’t think its possible for a reply to be edited, I don’t seem to be able to do it on other blogs that I comment on.
      Ha! Glad you got a smile. Comment was a bit tounge-in-cheek, but as someone once said, “Apples don’t fall to far from the tree.”
      Stay warm

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry – I missed commenting on this post for some reason. Lange’s photographs were so powerful: definitely worth a thousand words on the terrible times her subjects were going through. And your Sparrowhawk image is beautiful indeed, showing those patterned feathers to perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Eleanor, it is interesting to contemplate that in light of current events in the ‘land of the free’, what Dorothea might have done to document the unrest.
      Or more pointedly, who will emerge as the photographer who can also affect change where its needed. We’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

G'day, Please feel free to Leave a Reply. Now auto approved

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s