DOROTHEA LANGE'S photographs tell stories. Sometimes uneasy tales of hard work, poor living conditions, and the resulting despair. But most capture the inner strength and pride of Lange's subjects despite their impoverished surroundings.
An exhibit of some 40 of Lange's photographs from 1939 rural Oregon during the Great Depression will be on display in Portland State's Littman Gallery October 1 through November 26 before traveling to other points in Oregon.
Lange (1895-1965) is perhaps best known for Migrant Mother, a photographic icon of the Great Depression. Taken in California, it shows a young mother staring stoically into the distance, her children huddling close in their tent home.
"Lange's portraits capture the spiritual essence of people caught up in something far greater than they can control," says exhibit coordinator David A. Horowitz, PSU professor of history. "She gets right down into the heart of people and their experiences. That's her strength."
IN THE 1930s, Lange was one of a dozen photographers hired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal administration to photograph rural America. The government's goal was to use the photographs to build support for the Farm Security Administration. In all, the photographers produced 270,000 images of American life—creating a superlative visual record of America during the Great Depression.
While on assignment, Lange turned her eye to Oregon in 1939. She traveled the state, not just photographing her subjects but taking notes and writing thoughtful captions. For example, accompanying her photo of the hopeful young mother, which appears on the cover of Portland State Magazine, Lange quotes the woman as saying, "Next year we'll be painted and have a lawn and flowers."
Horowitz and members of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission will give a dramatized reading of Lange's captions and field notes, accompanied by a visual display of her work, during PSU Weekend on October 10. The group will be joined by Lange expert Linda Gordon, an Oregon native and New York University social history professor. Gordon will also talk about Lange on October 8. The Lange events are made possible by the Cultural Commission and the PSU Friends of History.
During the Great Depression, many rural Oregon families and migrant workers lived in tents, shacks, and dugouts as they eked out a living harvesting crops. Times were hard, but stories of small joy can be seen in Lange's photos along with the essential human spirit of the American West.
Read more about Dorothea Lange:
Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, By Linda Gordon, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009
Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field, by Anne Whiston Spirn, University of Chicago Press, 2008
A Quaker Friends church congregation in Dead Ox Flat, Malheur County, in front of their dugout church
Dorothea Lange in Oregon
Historic Photograph Exhibit at Littman Gallery
October 1 - November 26
Opening reception October 8, 5 to 7 p.m.
250 Smith Memorial Student Union
Weekdays noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lecture by Linda Gordon, NYU Professor of History
October 8, 1 p.m., 238 Smith Union
Linda Gordon; David Horowitz, PSU Professor of History; and members of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission
October 10, 10 a.m., 238 Smith Memorial Student Union; register online at www.alumni.pdx.edu or call 503-725-4948
All events are free
|This service station window sign says that hop pickers are wanted for four big growers in Josephine County.|
|Migratory boy, age 11, and his grandmother work side by side picking hops in Polk County near Independence. Photograph taken at noon. Temperature 105 degrees.|
|The Fairbanks family, seen here in the Willow Creek area in Malheur County, has moved their tent home three times in one year.|
|This unemployed lumber worker, whose Social Security number is tattooed on his arm, will pick beans with his wife.|
|Twenty-five-year-old itinerant, originally from Oregon, says, "On the road eight years, all over the country." He is seen here near a pea packing plant in Imperial Valley, California.|
|Children at large bean pickers' camp near West Stayton in Marion County. Pickers came from as far away as Oklahoma and North Dakota.|
|Mr. Wardlow, drought area farmer, adjusts to a Western farm in Dead Ox Flat, Malheur County.|