Depression-Era Photographer Dorothea Lange’s Work Showcased in D.C. Exhibit

Three portraits in a row against a white background.
Center: The J. Paul Getty Museum. Right and Left: National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser.

The image is iconic. A mother, surrounded by her children brings a hand to her face. A look of worry clouds her visage. This transcendent image, along with other works by its photographer, Dorothea Lange, are on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

The exhibit, “Dorothea Lange: Seeing People,” will run from now through March 31, 2024. And for those who might only be familiar with her more famous photographs, this will provide a far more holistic view of Lange’s work. “Seeing People” is divided into six thematic parts and spans her decades-long portfolio.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Two men appear to be talking, one with his hands clasped behind the back of his neck.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser.
A young girl stands among other child with her hand over her hair reciting the flag pledge.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

In her time, Lange explores a wealth of social issues. Having lived from 1895 through 1965, there was certainly plenty to explore. As can be seen in the exhibit, the famed photographer captured images of the Great Depression, Jim Crow South, striking laborers, civil right violations against Japanese Americans around World War II, indigenous Americans, and portraits of those around the world from Ireland, Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, and Venezuela.

A child appears to be crying.
The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor.
A woman stands in front of a house with its roof in collapse.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Hands holding a cigarette cover a person's face.
The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

“Throughout the course of her 50-year career, Lange created an intensely humanistic body of work that sought to transform how we see and understand people,” Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, says in a release. “Merging her skills as a portrait artist, a social documentary photographer, and a storyteller, she helped redefine photography through images that emphasize social issues.”

A woman shields her eyes from the sun.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
A woman in an old-fashioned sunbonnet.
The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor
A group of people stands along a dirt road.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
A woman stands holding an apple pie.
The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

Such was the mission of Lange’s work. The photographer was passionate about documenting issues felt by people throughout the United States, and later in other countries as well. Lange also believed that photography could establish a path to creating social change by exposing oppression.

The National Gallery of Art, including the “Dorothea Lange: Seeing People” exhibit is free to visit and does not require passes. For those who cannot attend in person, selected works are also available to view on the museum’s exhibit page, and there is an exhibition publication. The 208-page illustrated volume is available to purchase in National Gallery of Art stores and online. The book not only provide a look at Lange’s photographs, but it also explores the photographer herself and her approach to portrait taking.

A girl stands, wrapped up in a blanket.
The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor.
A man wipes his face with the back of his hand.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

“Drawing on new research, the authors look at Lange‚Äôs roots in studio portraiture and demonstrate how her influential and widely seen photographs addressed issues of identity as well as social, economic, and racial inequalities — topics that remain as relevant for our times as they were for hers,” the listing for the Dorothea Lange: Seeing People book reads.


Image credits: Photographs by Dorothea Lange. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

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