Small Farm of California, Contra Costa County presents a classic scene: a farmhouse with a barn and a windpump, cows placidly grazing on its pastures. A dramatic wind-blown tree stands in contrast to the hard edges of the barn, and the cattle fence provides a dynamic sense of perspective to the image. The work is a charming example of Lange’s landscape photography, a genre she was deeply interested in but not often recognized for.
The bucolic view depicted in Small Farm of California represents a moment of cautious optimism. The photograph was taken in November of 1938 as the United States was beginning to see the light at the end of the long tunnel that was the Great Depression. Unemployment levels were significantly lower and World War II was still years away.
Gone are the ravaged faces of desperate families that Lange made so famous, replaced by the beauty of rolling hills, dramatic trees, and America’s big sky. The farm in the landscape represents the reassuring American ideal of self-reliance. It captures how the country wanted to see itself.
“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)
While the farm might have been in California, the photograph brings to mind the idealized Midwestern landscapes of regionalist painter Grant Wood. It’s a timeless scene that could easily be from a hundred years before the photograph was taken, and you can still see it today, although you might have to drive a bit farther out than Lange did to find it.
As we said at the top, this landscape is just one small slice of Lange's prodigious range, which we've just begun to illuminate with our Vintage Editions. We offer more examples of her timeless Americana in 9:00 a.m. Four Pupils Attend This Day. Baker County, Oregon and Log Home, Priest River Peninsula, Bonner County, Idaho (bonus: kittehs!). You formalists out there won’t want to miss her sharp sense of modernist composition in Detail of Barn, Irrigon, Morrow County, Oregon. And everyone should check out a classic example of her gut-punch documentary photography in I Am an American, Oakland, CA, March 1942.
With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200