'Resting at cotton wagon before returning to work in the field. He has been picking cotton all day. A good picker earns about two dollars a day working, at this time of year, about ten hours.' –Dorothea Lange
Lange’s earliest images devoted to the plight of farm-workers date back to 1933, the year before the agricultural economist Paul Schuster Taylor became aware of her work. Taylor, a staunch advocate for migrant farm laborers through his professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, was inspired by Lange’s work and invited her to join him on a study of migrant laborers for the State Emergency Relief Administration. Lange accepted and the two began a professional collaboration that also became personal and would result in a second marriage (for both) the following year. Each had two children from their previous marriage: Lange had John and Daniel with Maynard Dixon; Taylor had Ross and Margot with his first wife Katharine. Later in life, Margot married Donald Fanger, and the two had a son named Ross Fanger, who provided authentication for the print offered in the current lot.
This print is annotated ‘BAE’ on the verso, signifying its origin at the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, a division of the Department of Agriculture for which Dorothea Lange became Head Photographer in 1940. While her tenure at the BAE lasted only a year, Lange produced around five-hundred images during that period, of which the current lot is arguably the best known. The BAE assignments sent Lange to California and, as seen in this image, Arizona, to fulfill the bureau’s mission to capture life in rural America. In that regard, Lange’s work was an extension of her celebrated humanitarian work at the Farm Securities Administration (FSA) from 1937 to 1940.
The Oakland Museum's guide to Lange’s collection provides a more descriptive title for this image: ‘Migratory cotton picker with his sack slung over his shoulder rests at the scales before returning to work in the field.’ It is noteworthy that the original negative shows a wider cropping. The tightened cropping, which Lange carefully controlled in the darkroom, brings the subject’s hand into the center of the image and subsequently turns the viewers’ attention to his etched palm and calloused skin. Like Lange’s other iconic images, namely, Migrant Mother, 1936 and White Angel Breadline, 1933 (see lot 324), this image is emblematic of the effects of the Great Depression on rural America. In that regard, it is not a portrait of a worker, but a deeply sympathetic reflection of an era. Lange’s commitment to the subject continued throughout her life, and in her application to the Guggenheim Fellowship the following year, Lange noted that she sought 'to photograph people in selected rural American communities. The theme of the project is the relation of man to the earth and man to man, and the forces of stability and change in communities of contrasting types.' In 1941, Lange became the first woman awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship for photography.
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Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona, 1940
DOROTHEA LANGE (1895–1965)
George P. Elliott, Dorothea Lange, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, p. 28.
Robert Coles et al., Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime, Aperture Foundation, Inc., New York, 1982, p. 122.
Elizabeth Partridge, Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life, Smithsonian, New York, 1994, pl. 5.14, p. 82.
Therese Thau Heyman et al., Dorothea Lange: American Photographs, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 1994, pl. 32, n.p.
Naomi Rosenblum, A History of Women Photographers, Abbeville Press Publishers, Paris, London, New York, 1994, pl. 165.
Keith F. Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, 1995, p. 55.
Henry Mayer et al., Dorothea Lange: The Human Face, NBC Editions, Paris, 1998, p. 49.
Pierre Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer, Bulfinch Press, New York, 2002, p. 135.
Ross Fanger (step-grandson of the artist), California;
Edwynn Houk Gallery, Chicago;
acquired from the above by the present owner, 1989.