The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

October 6, 2013

Lange's photos documented Depression era


As photography is a wonderfully expressive part of the art world, this article is going to introduce to those who have never heard of her and bring back to light a woman whose photography made such an impression on the world. Her name is Dorothea Lange, who is said to be one of the prominent photographers of the 20th century.

Her name was Dorothea Nutzhorn, and she was born May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, N.J. Her mother stayed at home to raise her and her brother Martin (as did most women of her time). Her father was a lawyer. When Dorothea was 7, she contracted polio, and it caused her right leg and foot to become very weak. Being the person that she was, she came to appreciate the polio that had so much changed her life. “It was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me.”

As often happens in families these days, her parents divorced. She blamed the divorce on her father, and took her mother’s maiden name as her last name, completely forgetting her father’s name, though both of her parents were a strong support system for her education. She also had exposure to creative works all of her growing up years.

Dorothea went to high school, but the regular subjects did not really interest her. Thus, she decided to pursue photography as a career. Columbia University was her choice. For several years, she worked hard as an apprentice, and worked for several photographers, including Arnold Genthe, who was a famous portrait photographer.

By 1918, Dorothea was running a successful portrait studio in San Francisco, Calif. By then she had married, and with her husband, Maynard Dixon, had two sons. They then settled into a comfortable life. By the early 1930s she herself became divorced and she met and married Paul Taylor, a university professor.

During the 1920s, her first taste of documentary photography happened when she traveled around the Southwest with her husband photographing Native Americans. Then came the Great Depression and in the 1930s, she trained her camera on what she started to see in her own San Franciscan neighborhoods — labor strikes and bread lines, and the poor, the very poor.

One of her famous photographs, “The Migrant Mother” has become an iconic image from this rough period during the Depression and she captured perfectly the pain of what many Americans were feeling in their everyday lives — little or no money, no jobs, very little, if any food. As for many of this type of photographs, Lange did the photography, and her second husband wrote the reports on the terrible conditions and the people living in them.

When you look at the photograph of the “The Migrant Mother,” it’s very hard not to see the desperation in the woman’s face, as her tired eyes look into the unknown, the place where she and her children will be.

Upcoming events

Please stay tuned for the latest in Art League news. No, we have not shut down some of our operations as the government has done, and certainly do not intend to do so. We are running full speed ahead!

— Our gallery exhibition is on until Oct. 26. It is an exhibition by Cynthia Kukla and is wonderful!

All of our children’s classes have started, as well.

— Home School Art is on Mondays from 1-3 p.m., from Sept. 16 to Nov. 4.

— After School Art (for ages 6-9) is on Mondays from 4-5:30 p.m.

— After School Art (for ages 10 and up) is on Wednesdays from 4-5:30 p.m. These classes will run from Sept. 16 to Nov. 4.

— Basic drawing class, taught by Kem “Short Stuff” Wiggins, will be presented on Tuesdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m. It started Sept. 23 and will go until Oct. 22.

— Oct. 17 will be a general meeting with Sue Richter (“Design on a Dime”).

— Oct. 19 will be an Eleanor Wesch workshop, “Painting a Fall Garden,” in the Coloring Room Studio. All will meet at Danville Art League at 8 a.m. (Central Standard Time). Lunch will be at the Covered Bridge Restaurant in Eugene, Ind.

— Oct. 26 topic will be “The Power of Color, Let’s Paint a Rose,” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be taught by Cynthia Kukla and lunch will be included.

— November and December gallery exhibition will feature Andrew Dudich, an Art League member. His art is wonderful. It’s a “you need to come and see” type of exhibition.

— Nov. 9 — Art Journaling Workshop from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This class will be taught by Jackqueline Worden of Charleston, former Danville resident.

— Nov. 16 — Free workshop on making items for the Christmas shoppe, 9 a.m. to noon.

 — Dec. 19 is our annual Christmas party.

I’d like to leave you with this: “Art is not a democracy. People don’t get to vote on how it ends.”

Visit us. We would love to introduce you to the world of art, a most wonderful place.

Eileen Dunavan is a member of the Danville Art League. Her column appears once a month.