Tuesday, April 02, 2019
On Dorothea Lange
That is the opening paragraph from an essay on Lange by George P. Elliott published in1966 in the Museum of Modern Art book, Dorothea Lange, which accompanied an exhibit of the photographer's work shortly after her death. Elliott's observations seem ever more relevant today when "mass journalism" has been replaced by mass social networking.
Elliott's brief essay is one of the best things I have ever read, both about Lange and about photography in general. It gave me new insight about the photographer and her work that Linda Gordon did not quite get to in her big biography of Lange. The essay and the book are also revealing of the process of mounting a major museum exhibit and how then Department of Photography Director, John Szarkowski, pulled it off.
How Elliott came to write such an excellent essay about photography is somewhat mysterious. His work as a novelist had mixed critical reviews and he was best known in literary circles for his short stories and essays. Elliot does not appear to have any connection to photography other than this essay and one other in The Hudson Review. He was a contemporary of Lange and of Weston who he also admired. The author went to school in Berkeley and lived in San Francisco, so perhaps he actually knew Lange.
The MOMA book is out of print and examples are often pricey. I picked up mine for fifty cents at my favorite local thrift store. For those without my good bit of luck, the complete book is available on line as a pdf file.