Dorothea Lange documented American life through nuanced photographs that highlighted the major social issues of the 20th century. Next week, you can virtually scroll through hundreds of her works, courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California’s latest digital exhibit devoted to the world-renowned photographer.
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895, Lange was best known for her Depression-era work and her visceral documentation of the Jim Crow South, capturing the hardships of everyday life during some of America’s darkest times. (Lange’s monochromes of farmers reeling from the Dust Bowl are now synonyms when imagining the destitution born from the 1930s ecological and agricultural cataclysm.) Though a New Jerseyan by birth, Lange eventually set up roots in the Bay Area, where she would later die in San Francisco of esophageal cancer on October 11, 1965.
Did you know OMCA owns Dorothea Lange's personal archive? Check out our interview with Curator of Photography and Visual Culture Drew Johnson as we prepare to launch our upcoming Dorothea Lange Digital Archive website.— Oakland Museum of California (@oaklandmuseumca) July 24, 2020
So it makes that much more sense why Lange's personal archive was gifted to the Oakland Museum (OMCA) shortly after her passing — with OMCA now soon debuting a new exhibit dedicated to selections of her photographs and personal quotes that harp on today’s political and social struggles.
The Dorothea Lange Digital Archive curates and interprets a selection of Lange's work for the first time in a digital format; OMCA's lauded 2017 exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing and the 2020 opening of Dorothea Lange: Photography as Activism each received accolades from across the world and helped cement the Oakland museum as the omega in curating Lange’s works for public display.
But where the Dorothea Lange Digital Archive differs from former exhibits of the photojournalist is that it highlights Lange's socially conscious photographic work, organized into four main sections: everyday life during the Great Depression; living during World War II on the homefront; the Post-War era in California and across the nation; and Lange’s personal and early portrait work that helped hone her unique, intimate style which weaves all her stills together.
It’s a feat only achieved because of the museum’s relationship with Lange’s work.
"As the holder of Lange's extraordinary personal archive, OMCA has the unique opportunity to share her work even more broadly through the Dorothea Lange Digital Archive," says Valerie Huaco, OMCA Deputy Director and Chief Content Officer, in a press release. "OMCA is dedicated to presenting profound stories of California's people and places-whether in our galleries or in a digital space--and there is no artist who better demonstrates the enduring power of visual storytelling than Dorothea Lange."
The digital archive features more than 600 items from the collection, including both well-recognized and seldom-seen images, enmeshing quotes from Lange herself with historical information that bring a greater context to the images — making them all the more potent to see how, when unheeded and unlearned from, history has a proclivity to repeat itself… for better and worse.
The Dorothea Lange Digital Archive will launch to the public on August 10 and will be available online at museumca.org/lange; for more information on other virtually-accessible archives and collections at OMCA, visit museumca.org/omca-at-home.
Image: Courtesy of OMCA