Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life

(Docu B&W Color)

Sundance Film Fest 1995 (World Premiere Documentary Competition)–An engaging look at an unusual personality is offered in Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life, a chronicle of the fascinating photographer who recorded some of the most important events in modern American history. Docu's short running time and format are perfectly suitable for the small screen, where Lange can be featured in a series celebrating extraordinary pioneering women.

Photography was much more than an artistic medium of expression for Lange, who used it as a tool of dynamic discourse with the American people. Like poetry, it was a most eloquent language to which she devoted her entire life.

Docu profiles the life and work of an artist who shot some of the most evocative–and influential–images of the 2Oth century. From the beginning, Lange was intrigued by the notion of chronicling the impact of social upheaval, specifically the debilitating effects of the Depression and the tragic uprooting of the dustbowl, events that were poetically recorded in John Ford's classic, The Grapes of Wrath.

Devastated by the shameful relocation of Japanese-Americans during WWII, her evocative photographs captured the humiliation of this community, particularly its children. In general, Lange's iconic photographs provided the visual evidence that stressed the urgent need for socio-political reform.

After WWII, there was a change of subject matter–and tone–in her work, beginning with a series of photographic essays for “Life” magazine. In Lange's later years, especially after she was diagnosed with cancer, her photographs became more poetic and lyrical, reflecting her compassionate philosophy of “oneness” and “universalism” of the human race, which she adventurously explored in her world travels.

Interviews with Lange's sons and assistants illuminate the life a feminist who chose a typically “male” profession, hence serving a role model for future generations of women. The personal narration by Lange, who defined herself as a populist artist, is intriguing, especially when she explains her photographs, which tended to celebrate human dignity in the face of distress.

Dorothea Lange could have delved deeper into its subject's personal life, her marriage and divorce and her aging. Overall, though, docu's modest scale befits the stature of an accomplished but humble artist.


A Pacific Pictures production. Executive producer, Bill Jersey. Co-producers, Nancy Hale, Elizabeth and Meg Partridge. Directed by Partridge. Camera (B&W, color), Partridge, Craig Withrow; editor, Claude Ibrahimoff. Running time: 47 min.