Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lifting Others Into The Light

Current technology allows us to capture a split second with a photograph or a series of moments with video simply using our phones.  We can document anything anywhere at any time.  For those pictures and videos to have an impact outside our own personal realm though, we need to give the subject matter more than a quick click.  For those devoted to the art of photography or videography either as amateurs or professionals, it is a fact that rarely is the ultimate photograph or video created on the first try.  Sometimes it can take a lifetime of work to produce a masterpiece.

In both fields the person behind the camera must see the world differently than others bringing certain aspects more sharply into focus.  Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression (Albert Whitman & Company, February 28, 2017) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with pictures by Sarah Green portrays the essence of a woman who saw people and places others did not.  She knew how to bring our attention to those people and places ignored or forgotten by others.

Because childhood polio left her with a limp and a rolling gait, Dorothea knew how those less fortunate felt without ever walking in their shoes.

Struggles with the results of her disease exposed her to the unkindness of people. This filled her with compassion.  Her life in the neighborhoods of New York's Bowery developed a type of courage within her.  This she was able to use as an adult.   Dorothea was one of those people who knew even before she left high school exactly how she wanted to spend her life.  Due to an unfortunate event, a robbery, Dorothea's dream began to be realized sooner than she expected.

She opened a studio in San Francisco where during afterhours a particular group of artists frequented.  One of them she married but their relationship was strained by money and frequent absences.  Her painter husband traveled a great deal.

Although her bread-and-butter money was made taking portraits for the wealthy residents of the city, Dorothea noticed how others less fortunate were struggling to survive after the stock market crash leading to the Great Depression.  She found herself, carrying her camera, to capture these critical moments in American life.  Photographing people was her passion.

Her work, exhibited in a gallery, was noticed by Paul Taylor, a professor of economics.  After illustrating one of his articles, Dorothea began to accompany him during his research travels.  He and his staff wrote and she photographed.  This lead to Dorothea working for the government; she recorded on film as a field investigator for the Farm Security Administration and later for the War Relocation Authority.

Her style of first taking pictures of children allowed for a better connection with their parents.  In 1936 this desire to show all sides of America through her pictures, even children, lead to the publication of Migrant Mother.  It, like most of her photographs, was a silent call to action.  It worked.

When Carole Boston Weatherford introduces us to a person from our American historical past they become fully alive.  It's as if we are walking side by side with them through those portions of their life she wishes to highlight for us.  She informs us of their childhood, including specifics, so we can better understand how it directed their future.

She wants us to know mistakes can lead to blessings such as Dorothea's son from her first marriage giving to her and holding a bouquet of daisies which she photographed.  Most importantly Weatherford wants us to be fully aware of how this person, Dorothea Lange, made a significant difference in the life of many people, bringing their individual and collective tribulations to attention.  Here is a sample passage.

The government soon hired her as a field investigator.  With a bulky box camera, Dorothea hit the road to show America to Americans.  What others neglected or ignored, she noticed and preserved on film:  an ex-slave in Alabama, sharecroppers in the South, migrant workers out West, rural poverty programs, and later during World War II, Japanese Americans in internment camps.

As a debut picture book illustrator Sarah Green gives readers a look at the life of Dorothea Lange reminiscent of black and white photography even though color is used.  There is a quality to her layout and design of the individual elements on a page which gives us the sense of turning pages in a photo album.  Using an iconic photograph of Dorothea Lange on her car as the inspiration for her matching front dust jacket and book case is excellent.  This is Dorothea at her best traveling throughout the United States photographing Americans.  To the left, on the back, on a background of white are three separate interpretations of photographs of children such as Lange took.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pale steel blue.  For many of the images Green uses white space as a background or to loosely frame her illustrations.  Most of the pictures span two pages, alternating to smaller visuals to provide pacing.

The historical context for each picture will have readers pausing to study each portion of the image.  With each page turn you find yourself looking for Dorothea.  We are drawn to the intensity of her body language as she works.

One of my favorite pictures is of Dorothea standing in the street taking pictures of men on Skid Row in San Francisco.  You know the box camera she used must have been heavy but she carried it there and set it up on a tripod.  Her shadow and the shadows of some of the men create an appropriate atmosphere.  It's a realistic and haunting.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression written by Carole Boston Weatherford with pictures by Sarah Green is an outstanding picture book biography.  It gives readers an informative and engaging look at the woman behind one of the most famous photographs of a particular era in American history.  Readers will appreciate the two pages at the close of the book providing more information about Dorothea Lange and her work.  Three photographs are included.  Readers might also be inspired and interested in further study such as the American Masters on PBS about Dorothea Lange.

To learn more about author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Sarah Green and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Sarah Green also maintains Tumblr pages.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other books highlighted by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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