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.
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.