Photography Forum – Admiring a Master

One evening in late August, while watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS, I saw a promotion for an upcoming segment of American Masters. It was to be on the famed documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. The show was going to air while we were away for the Labor Day weekend, so I quickly set up the dvr to record it.

Last Friday, while Mark was away for the evening, I finally had time to watch the special (entitled Dorothea Lange:  Grab a Hunk of Lightening) and I was mesmerized!

Although not really familiar with the name Dorothea Lange I did, of course, recognize many of her iconic photographs. She is probably best known for her poignant portrait “Migrant Mother”.


Photo by Dorothea Lange

Perhaps it is the journalist/writer in me that is always interested in the story behind the person. I am one of those who believes that every person has a story and their story is important. Dorothea Lange’s story was certainly interesting, the kind that would inspire novelists and movie makers. Even though the special was two hours long (with no commercials) it never seemed to drag or get boring. I was interested in every aspect of her life, and they showed countless numbers of her fabulous photographs. It was especially interesting to hear her describe the stories behind many of the photos.


Photo by Dorothea Lange

I have never been an “activist”. I have always said that I don’t have an activist bone in my body. But after watching this documentary on Dorothea Lange and all the things she witnessed and documented with her photography, I suddenly had my eyes opened to how people become activists for change. Dorothea and her husband were both so deeply affected by what they witnessed throughout the depression, the dust bowl, the internment of the Japanese, and the struggle of small farmers in the 1950’s that they vowed to work for the rights of others.  (One of the most interesting revelations was that she was hired by the government to document the internment of the Japanese, to prove they were not being mistreated, but her photos ended up being impounded by the government and did not see the light of day for nearly 50 years.  Dorothea’s lens captured the truth the government did not want seen.)


“Tractored Out” by Dorothea Lange

Another thing that struck me was the unmitigated raw talent that Dorothea Lange possessed. I realized that anyone can learn to use a camera, many people can master the technical aspects of photography, but talent – that something special seen with the heart and transferred through the lens – cannot be taught or learned. It just IS. Some people have it but most people don’t.


Photo by Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange’s photography truly is inspirational. It is the epitome of the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”.


Photo by Dorothea Lange

Her life story is also inspiring and unique. If you have not seen the American Masters documentary about her life, I would encourage you to seek it out and watch it. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t delete it from my dvr! (You can get a glimpse of it here.)

Is there a master of photography that you particularly admire? Who’s work most inspires you?  Please share in the comment section below.

Happy “Shooting”. 🙂

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9 Responses to Photography Forum – Admiring a Master

  1. avian101 says:

    I was impressed by Ansel Adams photography and prints. He looked for the scenery and made the best of it with the camera.
    In the case of Dorothea Lange and other photographers was being there at the right moment, illustrating what reality was… while it happened. Nice post Amy! 🙂


    • Thank you, H.J.! Yes, I am impressed by Ansel Adams also. I was reading about him just last night. There is something about black and white photography that shows the stark reality of the times. I was reading that Ansel Adams did not like color film because he had more control over the image in B&W.


  2. I grew up admiring the wildlife photos in the National Geographic magazine, although I can’t recall a single name after so many decades. The name Dorothea Lange didn’t ring a bell until I saw the photos, then I was able to place the name. Great post, a lot of food for thought here.


    • National Geographic will always be a standard for photography, in my opinion. They publish some of the best. I was reading about Ansel Adams last night and I believe he was published frequently in Arizona Highways. I remember my mother getting that magazine for years. As a kid I had these big paper scrapbooks and would cut pictures out of Arizona Highways and paste them in my scrapbooks. I always wonder what happened to those things. 🙂 I believe magazines such as National Geographic, Arizona Highways and Life helped to bring photography into the same realm as fine art.


  3. Bob Zeller says:

    Great post, Amy. As Jerry said, there is a lot of food for thought. I alway liked those old black and white photos from those days. It is hard to believe that there may have been real color in the lives of those people of the dust bowl.


    • Funny you should say that, Bob. I am a huge WWII buff and I have bookshelves full of books on the war. Of course the majority of the photos from those days are black and white. Then when I see color photos, it’s weird – it gives you a whole new perspective because it’s easy to believe those people lived their lives in black and white!


      • Bob Zeller says:

        Co-incidently, I am a WWII buff, too. You and I are really alike in that. I have many books, too. Both the European campaigns, and the battles in the Pacific. I also love those old warbirds, the planes that fought in both places. I enjoy going to air shows that feature them. Of course, we have the Confederate Air Force (now called the Commemorative Air Forc) to be politically correct. Very exciting aircraft to watch.


    • That’s so cool that we have this interest in common! Sometimes I think my interest borders on the obsessive or at least very odd. My home is actually decorated in vintage style with many WWII posters, photographs, etc. and other items from the 40’s. (Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era.) I have the entire Time-Life collection of WWII books and have read every one of them from cover to cover! (Almost 30 books in total, plus I have many others.) Unfortunately I don’t retain very much of what I read, so don’t give me a quiz! LOL Mark loves the planes and he is very good at identifying them. I would love to see an air show featuring the aircraft of those days. I bet it is super impressive!


      • Bob Zeller says:

        I think almost every state has a wing of Commemorative Air Force planes in one of their cities. Then every year, in early October, they get together for a huge joint airshow at their headquarters in Midland, Texas. Talk about exciting, there is a plane in the air almost constantly, all day long. I have been there several times. I will miss it this year because of a other plans.


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