Politics of Seeing

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California 1936

Paris’ Jeu de Paume revisits the work of documentary photographer Dorothea Lange with a major retrospective “Dorothea Lange, Politics of Seeing” (until January 27, 2019). The exhibition originated at the Oakland Museum of California —home of the photographer’s archives— donated to the museum fifty years ago by her husband and collaborator Paul Shuster Taylor.

Dorothea Lange (1895–1966) documented American life with riveting, intimate photographs that portrayed some of the most powerful moments of the 20th century. Lange was driven by the belief that seeing the effects of injustice could provoke reform and perhaps bring about change.

“The Politics of Seeing” features major works by Lange, some of which have never before been seen in France. The exhibition focuses on the extraordinary emotional power of her work and on the context of her documentary work. It features five specific series: the Depression period (1933-1934), a selection of works from the Farm Security Administration (1935-1939), the Japanese American internment (1942), the Richmond shipyards (1942-1944) and a series on a Public defender (1955-1957). Over one hundred vintage prints taken between 1933 and 1957 are enhanced by the presence of documents and screenings broadening the scope of an œuvre often familiar to the public through images such as “White Angel Breadline” (1933) and “Migrant Mother”(1936), which are photography icons.

Lange’s iconic images of the Great Depression are well known, but her photographs of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War were only published in 2006. Shown here for the first time in France, they illustrate how she created intimate and poignant images throughout her career in order to denounce injustices. In addition to the prints, a selection of personal items, including contact sheets, field notes and publications situate her work within the context of this troubled period.

The exhibition includes five frames Lange took as she approached Florence Owens Thompson and her children for one of her most famous pictures which became known as “Migrant Mother.” In her notes (included in the exhibition) she says “I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her her name or her history. She told me her age, 32. She said they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in a lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”

“Dorothea Lange, Politics of Seeing,” until January 21, 2019, Jeu de Paume, Paris.