Grab a Hunk of Lightening–Dorothea Lange

” It is a process of getting lost.”

What a woman and what a life.  Known for her “Migrant Mother”  portrait shot during the Great Depression, Dorothea Lange was a formidable  human being.

At first, I didn’t think that her work would be relevant to C and N since from what I know, Lange is known for her documentary work with the FSA.  However, as I saw more of her images, it became clear that she was able to hit that ‘pregnant moment’ mentioned in the Cindy Sherman film.  Her images do tell of a narrative, but also they highlight the ‘universality’ of the work and focus on the human condition.  Such beautiful images.

Throughout the film, she comments a few times about getting lost and having a purely visual experience.  I am happy to say that I know exactly what she means.  When I was in Morocco last April without my family, I was able to get lost and just see what was before me.  It was an experience I will never forget and envy sometimes back in the hustle and bustle of life.

Another part of her life that resonated with me was the fact that she had  a family to take care of and especially with her first husband, his career came first.  While my life and partner are nothing like hers, I feel that sense of being a woman and mother who tries to keep it all happening for everyone.  Though Dorothea is reported to have not been the most hands on of mothers, which is maybe why she was such a good photographer.  She took the time to carve this time out to pursue her passion, something I struggle with, but am working on it.

When she met Paul Strand she commented on how he worked and was so ‘intent on his purposes and so solitary…because he was not living a woman’s life.’ What a poignant and spot on thing to say.

She also talks about the ‘mental disengagement’ needed for photography and to only become an observer.  I also feel this is important and is why I usually don’t take photographs when my kids are around (unless it is of them) because I can’t fully engage as an observer.

Some of her most amazing photos were not from the FSA, though they are an amazing body of work, especially the darned stockings that she photographed that told without telling, the difficulties of poverty during the Great Depression.  Her images from Manzanar, know being circulated around the internet in this Post-Truth, Trump era emerging in the US  important but also her images of covered women whilst she was abroad, are remarkable.

One of the narrators in the film commented on Lange’s ability to tell a story through the human form, the body.  I loved this idea.  In the media we see disembodied women used for the sake of selling sex, yet she photographed a foot, a hand, a silhouette, and the effect was moving. In fact, it gave me some inspiration for assignment 3, to use my body to tell a story.

The last words she said on this earth, were to her 2nd husband.  She said: “Isn’t it a miracle that it comes at just the right time.”

Who knows what she meant, be it death, or the image, or life, or people, regardless, what a thing to say before taking her last breath.

Source: Dyanna Taylor. (2014). Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightening. [Online Video]. 24 August 2014. Available from: [Accessed: 6 December 2016].


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