“I have an invisible coat that covers me… I learned to be unseen.” – Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange is an honorable photographer and story-teller. She captured images during some of the most unstable moments in American history. In her lifetime she was able to photograph in over 30 states and her documentary photography forced Americans to see their America as it was. Her images tell the story of what was there at the moment as well as what was absent. In the film Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning it is mentioned that she could photograph a doorway but in reality be photographing the door that was missing. As she learned to be unseen, she also learned to photograph the unseen.
The images she captured not only displayed despair but also showcased the hope of those she photographed. She captured the state of distress people where in but also captured their power. When she went on her photographing adventures and assignments, she was not only looking at what she could bring home but she was focused on capturing what was really there and what was the actual human condition at that moment in time. I would describe her images as powerful, emotional and genuine.
In the image above, Migrant Mother, her iconic image of the great depression she found something that nobody knew about by visiting migrant camps that nobody visited. By reaching these camps and taking these images she was able to help bring donations and help into the camp. Although this image is considered the most recognized photograph in American history, she believed that the image belonged to the people and not herself. Her images captured the stories of the communities she visited. The communities she described as “rooted in the earth like a tree.”
Dorothea Lang’s work is very inspirational to me as a photographer. She has taught me the importance of capturing the moment as it is happening. In a time when technology allows us to alter our images so easily, it is important to remember to also leave some images as they are because that is what makes them great. As Dorothea Lange stated in the film, “the camera is a powerful instrument” with it we can say “this is the way it is, look at it, look at it!”
You can find the film Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning here.