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Monday, January 13, 2014

Dorothea Lange

"Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion. . . the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate."

— Dorothea Lange
American Photographer
1895 - 1965

What are the passions in your life?  What drives you to do what others are not willing to do? Our youth is spent seeking our passion and for some that takes years.  Some people will find their passion early and spend a lifetime in pursuit of that passion.  Others will wander for years, exploring, seeking and dreaming before they discover that passion.

Do you pick the topics you write about or do the topics pick you?  Do you choose what you paint or do the subjects you paint choose you?  At some level, I believe that the subjects, topics or themes we write about, photograph or paint are given to us.  We may think that we choose our subjects, but when we analyze it deeply, we often find that they are born in our biology, our environment, our family history and our very soul.  We never really know why we have chosen a certain topic or theme.  We don't know why one person is passionate about soccer and another could care less.  Or why one person writes about animals in the wild and another paints portraits of rich people. 

For our lives to make sense, we must see and understand the patterns and the themes.  What subjects to you keep coming back to even though you try to escape.  One of the dominant themes in my life is spirituality.  No matter how often and how much I try to escape, I keep coming back to it.  It drives my writing, my painting and my life.  My writing has been a search for the unknowable — the ultimate questions about why we are here.

Creative Practice
This week choose a topic or theme that you normally don't write about, and spend the week writing about it.  Choose a new subject to photograph or paint and spend the week focused on the subject.

Manzanar Relocation Center
Dorothea Lange was born of second generation German immigrants in Hoboken, New Jersey.  She contracted polio when she was seven and it left her with a permanent limp.  Her father abandoned the family when she was twelve.

Lange studied photography in New York and worked in several photography studies before moving to northern California at the age of 23.  She lived in Berkeley the rest of her life.  She married the western painter, Maynard Dixon, in 1920 and they had two sons.  She divorced Dixon in 1935 and married Paul Taylor, a professor of Economics.

Dorothea Lange is famous for her photos of the Great Depression.  Her most famous photo is Migrant Mother, a photo of Florence Owens Thompson.  In talking about the experience of taking the photo, Lange said: "I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet....I did not ask her name or her history....She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food."

Lange also documented the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans to relocation camps during World War II.  After the war, Ansel Adams invited her to teach photography at the California School of Fine Arts.  In 1952, she co-founded the photographic magazine, Aperture.

Here are some of Dorothea Lang's photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum.