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New! Lange and the Long Road to the American Dream

Dorothea Lange's work went a long way toward documenting the often rocky road to the American Dream. Our latest Lange edition, Migrant Worker on California Highway, reminds us why this photographer will always hold down a place in American history.

Migrant Worker on California Highway by Dorothea Lange
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 24"x20" ($600)

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Worker on California Highway is a vision of a bygone era that still beats in the heart of this country after nearly a century. It could be said that the enduring ethos of America emerged from the darkest of times. The idea of the American Dream, in all its contentious, deeply ingrained glory, was defined in the shadow of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression

What many of us consider the defining characteristics of that “dream”—the house, the car, the white-picket fence, 2.5 children—took root in the 1950s, but the long-held idea of opportunity was actually coined by James Truslow Adams in the 1931 book The Epic Of America. He described it as “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.“
This desire to achieve this dream and escape a life of destitution is what drove over a million people West in the Dirty Thirties. California was flooded by hard-working, entrepreneurial men and women looking to earn their place in the ever-changing landscape of the American West, mostly in the form of migrant farm work. Not since the gold rush had California been so swarmed, or so unprepared for the onslaught of new members of their populace.

Dorothea Lange set out to document the migrant workers’ experience for the FSA. Lange’s photographs from this time became some of the most well-known images of 1930s America (think Migrant Mother), and hold a significant place in our visual culture to this day. Migrant Worker on California Highway, while seemingly desolate, is the Dream incarnate—a good life on the horizon, the long road between that life and the soul set to achieve it, and the promise of providing the children with a better future than the dreamer had. 

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