Saturday, 18 April 2009

American Depression // Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange' s picture from the American Depression with a mother and her three children has become a symbol of that time in American history.

'Migrant Mother' California 1936

The Farm Security Administration had a photography program from 1935-1944. Photographers and writers were hired to report and document the life of the poor farmer. The Information Division of the FSA was responsible for providing educational materials and press information to the public. Under Roy Stryker, the Information Division of the FSA adopted a goal of "introducing America to Americans." Together with Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange became one of the famous Depression-era photographers.

What one might not know is that these photographers were commisioned by FSA to not just document the life of the farmer, but to take propaganda photographs to ease the effects of the depression in the rural America.

The photo historian, James Curtis, comments

"Since these photographs were taken at the behest of the government, in order to support Government relief efforts, there's an obvious strategy involved to portray the Government in a very positive light. Not only the Government, more important than the Government, were the recipients of relief, so the most famous examples occur with the idealisation of the 'Dustbowl' refugees, for example, in the photography of Dorothea Lange. In the six photographs of the series, she proceeds to reduce the size of the family which is identified in her captions as seven people down to three young children, one of whom is an infant and thereby the family suddenly conforms to middle class standards on family size." (BBC Genius of Photography)

© Dorothea Lange

Is it a true documentary portrayal?

This is an important issue within documentary photography - is what we see a true portray of the situation or the people? What is left outside the frame? How much is the photographer allowed to 'choose' what we can see before the 'documentary' value is gone?

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