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Ex-Slave with a Long Memory, Alabama
1937 (taken) 1950s (print)
8 x 11 in (20.3 x 28 cm)
Swann Galleries - New York
Courtesy of Swann Galleries (Auction Oct 21, 2008, Lot 88)
Flush mounted, with Lange's signature, in ink, on recto and her notations on mount verso.
Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime, 92.
Dorothea Lange Looks at the American Country Woman, 55.
Dorothea Lange''s passion for photographing the lives of those who were ignored or neglected makes her one of the more compassionate image- makers of the 20th century. She began her photographic career as a commercial portraitist in 1919 when she moved to San Francisco, work she continued to do for more than a decade. During the early years of the Depression, Lange''s interest in the human condition grew and she began to photograph the city''s dispossessed. In 1934, at an exhibition of these prints, she was introduced to Paul Taylor, a professor at the University of California, who would later become her husband and partner.
In February of 1935 they began documenting migrant farm workers for the California State Emergency Relief Administration. Copies of the reports the couple produced reached Roy Stryker who, that same year, offered Lange a job with the Resettlement Administration (which continued until it was renamed the Farm Security Administration, in 1937). During Lange''s five years with the RA/FSA, while dealing with budget cuts that resulted in her being on and off the government payroll, she produced a body of work that was inextricably linked with the national consciousness and has continued to remain relevant to the present day issues of poverty, displacement and lack of awareness. Her truthful, unaltered and sympathetic images facilitated Depression-era relief programs that were of the utmost necessity, and persuaded Congress to provide funds for these programs.
Although Lange is best-remembered for her images of migrant workers, she traveled throughout the country documenting the prevalent social and economic issues of the period. In mid-April of 1937, Stryker canceled a Northwest journey for the RA and asked Lange to cover the tenancy issue in the South. She was told to start in Arizona and New Mexico, photographing some RA projects along the way, then continue into Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Despite the poignancy of the image offered here, Lange again faced her continual struggle of reaching an activist audience. Stryker''s instructions were succinct, "Take both black and white but place the emphasis upon the white tenants, since we know that these will receive much wider use."