It is easier to make clear photographs on a gray day than in the sunshine, partly for the same reasons that it is easier to paint a subject in diffused light; light without hard shadows describes an object as we know it to be, while sunlight describes what it happens to look like a particular moment, with its permanent form obscured and distorted by the pattern of accidental darks and lights. It took painters many centuries to begin to learn to paint under the sun.
To photograph well in the sun requires an accepting and unprejudiced eye, one that will not be led astray by expectation. If one is good enough to handle the sun, to see truly and precisely the ephemeral fact, even when the subject is shifting and gesturing and perhaps about to move off and walk away forever, then sunlight is one of the most glorious things that a photographer can photograph.
Dorothea Lange was marvelous with sunlight, and she was also marvelous with gesture. Not just the gesture of hand, but the way that people planted their feet, and cocked their hips, and held their heads. She photographed bodies more clearly with clothes on them than most photographers do when the subject is nude.
The two men were photographed during the summer of 1938. In these years there was often not much work for farmers to do at harvest season, and plenty of time for conversations, on the edge of fields or in the crossroads towns, in which farmers would keep their morale up by pretending to be interested in buying each other's land.
Lange made several fine photographs of men's back, but none more moving than this one. The man's posture is open and vulnerable and evocative of some other half-recollected memory, perhaps of prisoners of war, or burlesque dancers, or Saint Sebastian.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
The Decisive Years surveys the various topics that Lange approached throughout the 1930s and 1940s, with an important selection of her work for the War Relocation Authority and her documentations of farmers' communities in California and Arizona, and the Conference of the United Nations in San Francisco.
Historian Linda Gordon presents us with a portrait of the artist as a woman in her fascinating new biography of photographer Dorothea Lange, who captured the images of Americans on the move during the Great Depression.
Daring to Look presents never-before-published photos and captions from Dorothea Lange’s fieldwork in California, the Pacific Northwest, and North Carolina during 1939.
- The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.