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Learning to See

Learning to See, February 2019
by Elise Hooper

William Morrow Paperbacks
384 pages
ISBN: 0062686534
EAN: 9780062686534
Kindle: B07H5BJK9M
Paperback / e-Book
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"A fascinating look at an icon of American photojournalism..."

Fresh Fiction Review

Learning to See
Elise Hooper

Reviewed by Danielle Dresser
Posted January 9, 2019

Women's Fiction Historical | Historical

Best known for her iconic 1936 photograph, "Migrant Mother," Dorothea Lange lived a passionate life that she captured through documentary photography. Growing up on the East Coast to Jewish immigrant parents, Dorothea had polio early in life and spent the rest of it with a limp. Most people that met her saw her limp and immediately pitied her, but Dorothea's tenacious spirit and determination never let that pity last long. She ends up in California and starts her own portrait studio, photographing San Francisco's upper class. Before long she marries Maynard Dixon, a much older painter with a philandering reputation. With two young boys and her portrait work mostly supporting the family, Dorothea and Maynard take a huge financial hit during the Great Depression, leading to them separating and putting their children in foster care to make ends meet. Dorothea eventually remarries an economist named Paul Taylor, but her decision to break up her family and essentially abandon her children will haunt her for the rest of her life.

In the years following her divorce and remarriage, Dorothea begins to develop her skills as a photojournalist, working with the government to document the strife and strained conditions of migrant workers in the late 1930s, as well as the Japanese internment camps in the 1940s. Again, Dorothea's determination to do what she feels is right is placed front and center, and she even stands up to military officials on many occasions to make sure her work isn't censored. While she wasn't always successful, her photography showed America what was really happening during tumultuous times in its history...

LEARNING TO SEE by Elise Hooper is a fascinating look at a dynamic and steadfast pioneer of American photography. I immediately loved Dorothea as a character and found her story really intriguing. I enjoyed seeing Dorothea interact with other photographers and artists of that time period: Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, John Steinbeck, and even Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo. Her doomed marriage to Maynard Dixon began passionately, but quickly fizzled, and it was hard to watch (in a good way) them both spiral out of their relationship. I found Hooper's look at the decisions of a working mother interesting, particularly with Lange's decision to put her sons in foster care during the Great Depression. The pacing of the story was a little off for me - there were times where years would pass by between chapters, but then a single day would go on and on. Nonetheless, the overall narrative was easy to follow and kept me intrigued the whole way through. Anyone interested in American history and one of the innovative photographers who captured some of its most important moments will enjoy LEARNING TO SEE.

Learn more about Learning to See

SUMMARY

In this amazing new novel by the author of The Other Alcott, we see the world of Dorothea Lange, creator of the most iconic photographs of twentieth-century America, wife, mother, lover, and truth teller.

In 1918, twenty-two-year-old Dorothea Nutzhorn arrives in bohemian San Francisco determined to forge her way on her own terms. Within a year and a half, she’s renamed herself Dorothea Lange and is the toast of the Bay Area as the owner of the city’s most prestigious and stylish portrait studio and wife of the talented but volatile painter, Maynard Dixon.

By the early 1930s, as America’s economy collapses and her marriage founders, she must find a way to support her two young sons single-handedly. Determined to find humanity in places where most chose to look the other way, she takes to the road and exposes the horrific conditions of America’s poor. When the nation enters the Second World War, Dorothea must confront another injustice and decide how far she’s willing to fight. At a time when women are supposed to keep home fires burning, Dorothea dares be different, but her choices will come with a steep price.

Set amidst the turmoil of the Great Depression and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, Learning to See follows the life of an ambitious woman and her awakening to art, activism, and what it means to risk everything for love.


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