Dorothea Lange

This is probably Dorothea Lange's most famous photograph, Migrant Mother. How easy we can forget their entire body of photographic work by one famous photograph, or a handful such as Ansel Adam's more famous photographs. I often wonder if even the photographer agress with the public's assessment of their best work. How many of yours do you really like and find others just say "Hmmm..., interesting, but I like this one." We're not the best judge of our work, we're only the best judge of our view of our work. Does it change anything? Likely not, I'll still have my favorites, but I will try to see what others see in photographs I don't like as much.

To continue the discussion of Dorothea Lange, my personal favorite photographs almost all date from the 1920 and 1930's, especially the Depression era photographers. Many of these photographers focused on, what I call scenes of the ordinary. I firmly believe these are the photographs that survive the test of time. We like photography of sublime nature and landscapes, but it's the ordinary scenes where we can relate. Photographs that either tell a story or cause you to pause and wonder about them, and Dorothea's Migrant Mother is no exception and an excellent example.

Her photograph enages me in two ways. One, what about her, what happened in her life to be there and be who she is then. Two, what about the photographer, what happened in their life and work that they were there and saw what they photographed. We may not necessarily get both inquiries in one photograph, and especially as well as Dorothea's, but it's always my interest to strive to make the viewer think about the scene, and perhaps wonder why I took it, as I do sometimes afterwards.

How often have we taken lots of photographs of something, such as a parade, festival, walking street tour, and so on, and wonder what was I thinking? I remember once, on a Saturday to happen on a highway maintenance crew working on the Murray Morgan Bridge in Tacoma. They were installing new parts that had to be custom made. I walked around and photographed them for about 2 hours when the crew chief walked over and said they were finishing, and asked if I wanted to be on the drawspan while they tested it up and down.

He said it wasn't really legal for non-employees to ride the drawspan but said being a Saturday morning and no one else around, it would be ok. I asked if I could photograph it, and he said I could go anywhere I wanted except the control house and the obvious, "Don't fall off." Anyway, the short of it is that the photographs are pretty ordinary, maybe interesting, but the experience was worth all the rolls of film I have. And I thought, with film I have those, something digital images couldn't do in a heartbeat. Something about the slides I guess?

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