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Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field

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Overview

Daring to Look presents never-before-published photos and captions from Dorothea Lange’s fieldwork in California, the Pacific Northwest, and North Carolina during 1939. Lange’s images of squatter camps, benighted farmers, and stark landscapes are stunning, and her captions—which range from simple explanations of settings to historical notes and biographical sketches—add unexpected depth, bringing her subjects and their struggles unforgettably to life, often in their own words.

When Lange was dismissed from the Farm Security Administration at the end of 1939, these photos and field notes were consigned to archives, where they languished, rarely seen. With Daring to Look, Anne Whiston Spirn not only returns them to the public eye, but sets them in the context of Lange’s pioneering life, work, and struggle for critical recognition—firmly placing Lange in her rightful position at the forefront of American photography.

“A thoughtful and meticulously researched account of Lange’s career. . . . Spirn, a photographer herself, traces Lange’s path, visiting her locations and subjects in a fascinating series of ‘then and now’ shots.”—Publishers Weekly

“Dorothea Lange has long been regarded as one of the most brilliant photographic witnesses we have ever had to the peoples and landscapes of America, but until now no one has fully appreciated the richness with which she wove images together with words to convey her insights about this nation. We are lucky indeed that Anne Whiston Spirn, herself a gifted photographer and writer, has now recovered Lange’s field notes and woven them into a rich tapestry of texts and images to help us reflect anew on Lange’s extraordinary body of work.”—William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
"These images endure, not as relics of the pas
— Louis P. Masur
Times Higher Education Supplement
"From her broad knowledge base and sympathetic understanding of the history of the locale, Spirn offers a rich study of past and present life and landscape."-Anne Hammond, Times Higher Education Supplement

— Anne Hammond

Choice
"A revealing glimpse of Lange's working methods and social vision."
Rondal Partridge
“As a lifelong friend of Dorothea Lange, I was absolutely astounded and thoroughly pleased with Daring to Look. Anne Whiston Spirn has hit the nail on the head: she knows the secret of understanding good  photography—and of understanding Dorothea Lange's life as well. An astonishing book.”
William Cronon
“Dorothea Lange has long been regarded as one of the most brilliant photographic witnesses we have ever had to the peoples and landscapes of America, but until now no one has fully appreciated the richness with which she wove images together with words to convey her insights about this nation. We are lucky indeed that Anne Whiston Spirn, herself a gifted photographer and writer, has now recovered Lange’s field notes and woven them into a rich tapestry of texts and images to help us reflect anew on Lange’s extraordinary body of work.”
Dolores Hayden
“Dorothea Lange is known as one of the greatest American photographers, but she was also a remarkable observer whose field notes have largely remained unpublished until now. In Daring to Look, Anne Whiston Spirn, a landscape architect, photographer, and writer herself, has edited Lange's field notes, adding her own interpretative essays on Lange's work, and rephotographing some of Lange’s sites. This is a very important book deserving wide readership because it provides a wonderful combination of the socially conscious work of two gifted artists and writers.”—Dolores Hayden, Yale University
Mary Ellen Mark
"Dorothea Lange is one of America’s greatest documentary photographers. Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field is a very important book. It provides a fascinating insight into her FSA photographs and writings during that time. Ms. Lange’s photographs, especially the work she did for the FSA were a great inspiration for so many photographers, including myself."
Bookforum - Jordan Bear
“In the fascinating Daring to Look, a product of dogged archival reconstruction and shrewd readings of individual photographs, Anne Whiston Spirn presents a case study of Lange’s artistic agility. . . . Spirn demonstrates how vigorously the joint effort of word and image rebuts the standard deprecations of Lange’s work.”
Oregon Historical Quarterly - Linda Gordon
"Imaginative and beautifully produced, Anne Whiston Spirn's book is a delightful hybrid: a newly published primary source, a photography book with a fine introduction . . . an apologia for Lange against her often snobbish critics."
Forrest Gander
“What a sui generis and beautiful imagination (and manifestation) of a book: paean, recontextualization, historicizing, rediscovery, documentation, investigation and collaboration. It is its own genre, and so lavishly produced; the writing is sharp as a bird's beak, poetic and exacting. And Spirn’s own photographs make good company beside those of Lange. I loved reading her notes, feeling the picture take on even more weight that way. My wife and I both lived in this book in those last weeks of summer.”
Michael Katz
“I've just finished reading Daring to Look. Wow! Where to begin? As a historian, the first aspect of the book that leaps out at me is the thorough and imaginative research in a variety of sources and the broad contextualization in both public policy and social and economic history. The other aspect that leaps out simultaneously, really, is just how beautifully it is produced. It is such a pleasure just to hold and look through. Spirn’s introduction makes Lange come alive, places her in her time, and just skewers those who would diminish her achievements. Wonderful. And the end, returning to find the places she photographed, was a brilliant idea, and Spirn draws the circle with great sensitivity.

 

And I just love the pictures. I don't find the people depressing. Somehow they carry a dignity, sometimes even a nobility, that gives them an iconic quality. They look, by and large, like just fine people, classic Americans—they couldn't be anything else. The landscapes are so evocative, too. This is not to say that the book doesn't document the hardships of the Depression—it does, in both a systemic and very personal way—but the characters transcend them with grit, resilience, and acceptance.”

Los Angeles Times - Louis P. Masur
"These images endure, not as relics of the past but as vital, living documents. We stare, the images stare back, and recognition flashes in our eyes."
Times Higher Education Supplement - Anne Hammond
"From her broad knowledge base and sympathetic understanding of the history of the locale, Spirn offers a rich study of past and present life and landscape."
Choice
"A revealing glimpse of Lange's working methods and social vision."
Publishers Weekly

In this thoughtful and meticulously researched account of Lange's career, Spirn focuses on the photographer's largely unpublished 1939 portfolio and champions it as a masterful mix of the visual and the verbal. Lange's stark photographs and accompanying field reports testify to her desire to show real Depression-era Americans-displaced and downtrodden, but carrying on nevertheless-as honestly as possible; they are published as a whole in the second section of Spirn's book. These photographs include Lange's much vaunted portraits-of sharecroppers hunched in tobacco fields and mothers with their hungry children-as well as some of her lesser known landscape photography. The reverential Spirn, a photographer herself, traces Lange's path, visiting her locations and subjects in a fascinating series of "then and now" shots, an homage to Lange, who Spirn compellingly argues deserves to take her place as "one of the most important American artists of the Twentieth Century." (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Bookforum
In the fascinating Daring to Look, a product of dogged archival reconstruction and shrewd readings of individual photographs, Anne Whiston Spirn presents a case study of Lange’s artistic agility. . . . Spirn demonstrates how vigorously the joint effort of word and image rebuts the standard deprecations of Lange’s work.”

— Jordan Bear

Oregon Historical Quarterly
Imaginative and beautifully produced, Anne Whiston Spirn's book is a delightful hybrid: a newly published primary source, a photography book with a fine introduction . . . an apologia for Lange against her often snobbish critics.

— Linda Gordon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226769851
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Whiston Spirn is professor of landscape architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A photographer herself, she is the author of The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design and The Language of Landscape.
 

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Table of Contents

Preface
Prologue           “A Discoverer, a Real Social Observer”
                        Dorothea Lange

One                  Dorothea Lange and the Art of Discovery
                        Anne Whiston Spirn

Two                 Photographs and Reports from the Field, 1939
                        Dorothea Lange
                              Editor’s Note
                              California (January to May)
                              The Highway
                              The Farm Factory
                              North Carolina (July)
                              The Farmers, Black and White
                              Pacific Northwest (August-October)
                              The Migrant Life
                              The Government and the Farmers
                              The Cutover Land
                              The Irrigated Desert

Three                Then and Now
                        Anne Whiston Spirn

Appendix A      Chronology of Dorothea Lange’s Life
Appendix B       Description of New Deal Organizations and Programs
Appendix C      Documents Submitted by Lange with General Captions
Appendix D      Key to Negatives and General Captions
Appendix E      Additional General Captions from 1939

Notes
Essay on Sources
List of Illustrations
Index

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