Paying Homage

May 6, 2010 | 1 comment

Biography of Dorothea Lange

     Hers was the first funeral I ever went to and I didn’t even know her.  But like millions of people in this country and abroad, I knew her work.  In particular, Dorothea Lange’s photographs of 1930s Dust Bowl victims provide a visual documentation of deprivation and resiliency that  have become etched in our cultural consciousness.
     Dorothea died in October 1965 and, as I recall, her service was held at architect Bernard Maybeck’s stunning church, the First Church of Christ, Science, on Dwight Way in Berkeley.  I was there because my (then) husband did know Dorothea;  along with several other photographers, had been helping her get ready for a huge retrospective exhibition to be held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  I believe we sat with Imogene Cunningham – perhaps even gave her a ride as we often did.
     In those days we spent a lot of time with photographers – Imogene, Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, Minor White, Frederich Sommer.  My role as ‘dutiful spouse’ was to lug tripods and 4×5 cameras, pose endlessly while exposures were being checked, and listen attentively to talk of gray scales and contact prints.  But it is Dorothea’s funeral I remember best.
      No doubt a good part of my remembering is that, at almost 30, I had never before been to a funeral or a memorial service.  When I was very young there had been opportunities but my mother belonged to a generation who felt that children did not belong at such somber events.  Later, as a young adult when my grandparents died, circumstances and geography interfered with attendance at their services.  And so it is that I remember Dorothea…but not in the quite usual ways. 
     I’ve just begun reading Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, a new biography by Linda Gordon.  I’m looking forward to getting to know Dorothea a bit better.

1 Comment

  1. Brigid Byrne

    Every school child knows Dorothea Lange’s famous depression image, but not her name. Our high school students pick a famous photographer every quarter for a report and her images earn her a presentation each quarter. Every class. So this year I’ve heard 6 reports on her. Each time I respect her work more.

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