Dorothea Lange at the Jeu de Paume: the Twentieth century in the light of a photographer


    Dorothea Lange, “Mother of the migrant”, California, 1936. Jeu de paume/palm games

    United States, 1932. The Great Depression hits the nation. The owner of a small photography studio in San Francisco chooses to take its devices and moving across the country to measure the consequences. Famine, unemployment, forced migration… The initiative of Dorothea Lange soon attracted the support of president Franklin D. Roosevelt and go down in history as one of the masterpieces of the photographic art. “Over the course of two years mark a turning point in his life, from 1932 to 1934, she photograph of the situations that describe the social impact of the recession in urban areas,” says Pia Viewing, curator of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: the politics of the visible at the Jeu de Paume, in Paris. “This innovative work has been of interest to artistic circles and attracts the attention of Paul Schuster Taylor, professor of economics at the university of California at Berkeley. Specialist in conflict agricultural of the 1930s, and more particularly mexican migrant workers, Taylor uses photographs of Lange to illustrate his articles, before the two worked together from 1935 to the benefit of federal agencies established in the framework of the New Deal,” she continued.

    hundreds of images from his expeditions to paint the portrait of a disaster socio-economic novel. Avoiding any voyeurism, Lange gives to see the tragedy in situations that are more mundane: queue, move, labour, breast-feeding, breakfast, a nap, a small conversation…

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    “I knew how to give my face an expression that does not appeal to the attention on me”

    Dorothea Lange

    Dorothea Lange, “Picker of cotton”, Arizona, 1940. Jeu de Paume/Palm games

    Inspired by roman classicism, Dorothea Lange emphasizes the dignity and perseverance of human. Some faces remind us, by their severity, the busts of senators from the time of Julius Caesar or Cicero. Others seem to be our contemporaries, people of the Twenty-first century: the same hairstyles, same poses, same clothes… Lange recounts of personal experiences, through portraits, scenes that fascinate by their quiet. With her work, she is studying a mechanical monstrous and impersonal, which leads farmers, driven from the Midwest depleted, to the mega-cities emerging in California. The photographer shows the destruction of the rural world under the influence of the industrialization of agriculture.

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    In the history of photography, the name of Dorothea Lange enrolled at the side of those of Leni Riefenstahl, Helmut Newton or Henri Cartier-Bresson, with whom she shares the authorship of what was to become photojournalism. She was none the less close to artistic circles: in 1966, it is one of the first photographers to be exhibited at the MoMA in New York.

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    Dorothea Lange, “unhappy Child”, Oklahoma, 1936. Jeu de paume /palm games

    “I knew how to give my face an expression that does not appeal to the attention on me, so that no one looked at me. I’ve resorted to this ploy throughout my life of a photographer,” confessed she. Leave the studio and to reject any staging artificial, take a picture of the life itself, without being seen by the models – the approach to Dorothea Lange, as simple and natural as it seems, has completely upset the public. As early as the 1930s and still do today.

    Dorothea Lange: the politics of the visible at the Jeu de Paume (1, place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris), until 27 January.


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