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The Woman Behind the Icons,
This review is from: Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits (Hardcover)
If the subject weren't so compelling, I would not have stayed with it. The childhood parts are heavy on speculation as to how a child of this era with polio or separated parents would have felt. Speculation on why Lange accepted the traditional women's domestic roles is similarly overdone. Staying with this book was well worth it. Linda Gordon shines in her presentation of Lange's work and its place in its era and ours.
Gordon describes not just how these iconic photos were made, but the life of Lange as she made them. Lange took on (or wound up with) responsibilities for her own two children as well as offspring from her two husbands' previous marriages. There are allusions to neglect, but the children seem to be around more than one would expect from such a busy life. By contrast, Lange's life on the road driving from place to place, relating to the people and taking the photos is very well defined.
Gordon clearly demonstrates why Lange can be considered a photographer for democracy. She writes not just of Lange's work but her commitment towards the social reforms that she hoped her images might inspire. Her work with the FSA dovetailed with her second husband's work in agricultural economics. They were independent professionals as well a team.
There is a good description of the mission and vulnerability of the FSA, its role in the New Deal, its political pressures, office politics and how and why Lange was too often the odd man out. Both Lange and the FSA had to accept the racism of the times. Photos of people of color would not be highlighted since the public would not be inclined to accept them. The agency always had to consider the power of the growers to totally eliminate it.
While we remember Lange for her FSA photos, her work encompasses far more. Most intriguing are the photos of the Japanese internment, many of which are lost to history. Others, such as those done in cooperation with Ansel Adams, were published in mainstream publications. The few "world photographs" reproduced in the book whet your appetite for more.
As the New Deal gave way to a backlash, Gordon provides excellent analysis of the pressures on Lange, her husband and her colleagues. There are discussions on photo documentation, photojournalism and photographic art and analysis of Lange and her role in and opinions regarding each.
The book, besides being rich in analysis it is rich in photos. There are glossy plates and many photos on text pages.