Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures

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Dorothea Lange. Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona. November 1940

Gelatin silver print, printed 1965, 19 15/16 × 23 13/16" (50.7 × 60.5 cm). Purchase

Curator, Sarah Meister: Welcome to Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures. I'm Sarah Meister, curator of this exhibition. We've invited a couple of contemporary artists, a poet, and Dorothea Lange's granddaughter, to share their thoughts on Lange and some of the words and pictures on view here.

We're standing in front of a photograph that Dorothea Lange chose to call, Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona. But in fact, there's much more information on file at the Library of Congress. There she wrote, “Resting at cotton wagon before returning to work in the field. He has been picking cotton all day. A good picker earns about $2 a day working at this time of year.”

To our right is an enlargement of the end papers from Lange's landmark photo book An American Exodus. Lange cared a lot about words and pictures and the relationship between them, and An American Exodus is the most important example of her bringing these two things together.

Here's the poet Tess Taylor:

Poet, Tess Taylor: It's documenting people moving out of the small farms of the Midwest and the South and into the West. The texture of their lives is changing so rapidly, and they're in the face of forces that are enormous. The economy, the changing of the climate, the Dustbowl happening. Lange would go and talk to people, listen to what they had to say, sneak back to the car and write down these snippets.

Woman: All we got to start with is a family of kids.

Man: I couldn't do nothin if I went back.

Man: We trust in the Lord and we don't expect much.

Woman: Yessir, we're starved, stalled, and stranded.

Man: They say, we took work cheap, but you gotta take work cheap, and we didn’t want a relief.

Tess Taylor: Somebody said that and she wrote it down. It’s an amazing way of capturing this chorus of everyday voices and their music and their passion and their sense of justice.