A Portfolio of Photographs from Sam Contis’s Day Sleeper

The artist chooses a selection from her artist’s book inspired by Dorothea Lange’s archive.
Sam Contis Apr 29, 2020
Installation view of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures. Photo: John Wronn

Installation view of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures. Photo: John Wronn

A fleeting gesture, a visual echo, an ambiguous detail: the artist Sam Contis has taught me to see these as emblems of Dorothea Lange’s work, as well as signals of a new chapter in Contis’s own career. Sam and I discovered our shared fascination with Lange a few years ago, when I was just beginning to imagine the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures and she was just beginning to dive into Lange’s archives at the Oakland Museum of California. We’ve followed Lange’s trail, together and separately, each transformed by the experience.

Sam’s contribution to the exhibition is anchored by a single photograph, Paul’s Hands, amplified in the galleries (which are, alas, temporarily closed) by three lush photogravures drawn from Day Sleeper, Contis’s artist’s book that takes Lange’s archive as its point of departure. You can see the three photogravures on the dark gray wall at the left of the image above; a copy of Day Sleeper is visible in the foreground.

For Magazine, Sam has distilled this artist’s book into a portfolio of images that tantalizingly suggest the ways in which combinations of these unfamiliar images by Lange feel to her “like the beginning of a conversation that I wanted to continue having with Lange.”

—Sarah Meister, Curator

Click on the spreads from Day Sleeper below for a larger view.

Dorothea Lange. Paul’s Hands. 1957

Dorothea Lange. Paul’s Hands. 1957

Read more in the exhibition catalogue. You can also read Day Sleeper in full here.