John Szarkowski, director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for thirty years, wrote she was “a social observer by choice and an artist by instinct”. Indeed, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was just that, as she documented historical events that changed the economic and social structure of the United States. The exhibition Dorothea Lange. Racconti di vita e lavoro (Tales of Life and Work), on show at CAMERA in Turin, focuses on her work from the 1930s and 1940s.
The years between 1931 and 1939 were marked by droughts and dust bowls in the southern United States, leading to a migration of epochal proportions, as thousands of migrants, mainly small farmers, were forced off their land by the weather and turned into labourers.
A government agency charged with promoting the New Deal (a series of programmes, public works projects, financial reforms and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s), the Farm Security Administration commissioned a group of photographers to document the exodus of farm workers seeking employment on the plantations. The group was made up of fifteen photographers (Walker Evans, Russell Lee and Gordon Parks among them), including Dorothea Lange.
The exhibition is an overview of her career, with more than 200 images on display. She didn’t photograph the well-known protagonists of those years, but, instead, she photographed the marginalised: they were the protagonists of the Great Depression and she managed to give them the gift of dignity, despite the conditions of misery and disorientation caused by migrating.
For some reasons (including a failed attempt at a photographic expedition around the world) she, a New Jersey native, opened her studio in San Francisco as a portrait photographer. In the 1930s, she embraced Straight Photography aesthetics, documenting conditions from California’s unemployed and homeless to workers forced to migrate from country to country in search of still-cultivable fields
In the climate of the Great Depression, an iconic image was born. It is Migrant Mother, which will become a founding icon of American social photography, then in its beginning.
The exhibition is a very interesting opportunity to delve into the path that led to the creation of this icon, thanks to the presentation of the sequence of shots that Lange took in order to find the ‘perfect’ photo or rather the one that was most effective in terms of conveying the message, but also in terms of aesthetics.
Lange was also commissioned by the US government to address the controversial issue of internment camps for Japanese citizens on American soil in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lange was also commissioned by the US government to address the controversial issue of internment camps for Japanese citizens on American soil in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because of his critical stance on government policy, this work was censored to some extent and was not seen until some time later. The exhibition in Turin also includes these photographs, which are being shown in Italy for the first time in such a large corpus.
The exhibition, curated by CAMERA’s artistic director Walter Guadagnini and curator Monica Poggi, will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Dario Cimorelli Editore. After its first stop at CAMERA, the photographs, which deal with issues such as the climate crisis, migrations and discrimination that are still crucial today, will be exhibited at the Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa (https://www.museibassano.it/it/mostre/future ) from 21 October 2023 to 21 January 2024.
Back in Turin, Camera is also showing, until October 8, FUTURES 2023: new narratives, curated by Giangavino Pazzola: six young photographers selected for the FUTURES programme explore the theme of the visual representation of contemporaneity. The projects on display are by Andrea Camiolo, Nicola Di Giorgio, Zoe Natale Mannella, Eleonora Roaro, Sara Scanderebech and Alex Zoboli.
Dorothea Lange. Racconti di vita e lavoro (Tales of life and work)
FUTURES 2023: new narratives
July 19 – October 8, 2023
Via delle Rosine 18