Edited by Sarah Hermanson Meister
176 pages, hardcover, $55
Published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York
A central figure within American photography, Dorothea Lange is best known for her iconic documentary images from the Great Depression. Although later isolated from their original context, her photographs were originally published in books, magazines and political pamphlets with ample textual support, often written by Lange herself. The fascinating exhibition catalog Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, edited by curator Sarah Hermanson Meister, illuminates the ways Lange’s work in print was intertwined with and often inseparable from text. Arranged chronologically, the catalog has sections devoted to her early work with the Resettlement Administration, her celebrated book An American Exodus, produced with economist Paul Taylor, her contributions to publications such as Life and Aperture, and more. Full of images, book spreads, letters and archival text, it does not disappoint.
Interspersed with these historical studies are contemporary textual responses by a variety of artists, academics and curators, including Sally Mann, Rebecca Solnit and Christina Sharpe. Just as the historical examples illustrate the ways in which Lange and her collaborators used words to fortify her photographs, these modern reflections bring this dynamic engagement of text and image into the present and underscore the continued relevance of Lange’s socially engaged work. Although not an image-centric retrospective, the catalog aims to give us a fuller measure of Lange’s work and achievement. As an engaged and committed social documentarian, Lange insisted on the textual foundations of her work. In order to truly appreciate her legacy, we must not only look at her celebrated images, but also read the eloquent and forceful words that surrounded them. —Adam Bell