Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning


She was one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, a pioneer in going out into the real world and photographing real people, and she is Lee’s favorite shutterbug … and probably my own, too. It’s a toss-up with Ansel Adams, but their work is so totally different it’s useless to compare them. She was also in the right place at the right time, what with the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the great Okie migration. Most people would count it a good career if they took one picture that would break your heart, and she took hundreds of them. Those include “Migrant Mother,” which is probably the most reproduced photo of all time, and deservedly so. This documentary follows her career, from the perspective of the preparations for a show at MOMA, in 1964. She is dying from esophageal cancer, her files are a huge mess, and she is a perfectionist, insisting on getting each photo just right. (She doesn’t make it, dying before the show.) She has a lot to say about her career, but mostly about her way of looking at things. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard her speak … with her voice, anyway. She has spoken to me many, many times with her camera.