I read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath for the first time a couple of months ago. I was 60 years old. Please don't wait so long if you haven't read it yet. If it's been a while since you read it you might want to read it again. It's absolutely incredible. It's about the migration of tenant farmers from Oklahoma to California during the 1930s. As I read it I was struck by how it might not take much for there to be a need for a similar migration to occur in our near future. If the economy is as on a shaky foundation as many believe (including myself), we may see a modern equivalent of the 1930's migration of the dispossesed. A modern Grapes of Wrath. Then Katrina happened.
Shortly after reading The Grapes of Wrath I was sorting through some of my boxes of books and came across a book I've had for years and never got around to reading.
Dorothea Lange: American Photographs. Dorothea Lange's images are some of the finest from the Depression. She had been a portrait photographer in San Francisco and, in the early 1930s, she started noticing the victims of the Depression on the streets and started taking pictures. In 1935 she married Paul Taylor. He was an economist studying agriculture in California and became more than Lange's husband. He was her collaborator. His studies were illustrated with her pictures. This book covers that collaboration. She became part of the Farm Securities Administration (FSA) and produced some of her finest work for them. Great pictures.
In searching for more information on Dorothea Lange, I came across this book:
Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer. It was on the pricy side and was on my Amazon wish list. Then I rediscovered Daedalus Books. The list price for this book is $75 and Daedalus has it for $24.98. Get it here while they last. It covers different aspects of Dorothea Lange's life and work and has more nicely printed photographs.
There is another book that I don't have but wish I did. (It's in my Amazon wish list).
An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion by Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor. It's a landmark book combining text and photographs. It came out in 1939 and didn't do well. Times were changing. But they had published studies and images for years and it was those studies and photographs that Steinbeck used in researching The Grapes of Wrath. It was those studies and pictures that got the federal government to set up camps for the refugees. Dorothea Lange was a social activist working for change. We are going to need more Dorothea Langes.
Dorothea Lange has also been an inspiration for me to use the Graflex SLR. She used the big Graflexes a lot. Migrant Mother was shot with a Graflex.
Reading The Grapes of Wrath and looking at Lange's pictures brings home the devastation that these people endured. And while these books on Lange have many fine images, there is a cheaper way to see them. Many of her images were done while she was working for the FSA. Since she was a government employee, her work is public domain. There are several sites with her FSA pictures. Some are high resolution suitable for printing your own Dorothea Lange photograph.
M I G R A N T W O R K E R S
Photographer: Dorothea Lange
America from the Great Depression to WWII.
Google Images for Dorothea Lange
image results for Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange Reproductions