Signed, sealed, Dorothea: our new Vintage Lange is delivered.
How ‘bout some vintage vibes for your Tuesday? Our brand new Dorothea Lange edition is worth writing home about. Pull up to the roadside scene in Mail boxes in Bell County, Texas—an excellent example of what makes this legendary photographer’s work so enduringly compelling, and a deeply symbolic slice of history.
Mail boxes is Lange to the letter. Looking at it, we’re reminded of her out-of-the-box approach to image-making, her distinctive way of combining her roles as artist, documentarian, and custodian of the public good. Shot in 1937 as part of Lange’s ongoing work with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), Mail boxes shows five mailboxes standing vigil on the roadside. Three of the mailboxes were deserted, hollow proxies for the people they no longer served. At the time this photograph was taken, tenant farmers across the country were increasingly being “tractored out”—displaced by landowners replacing multiple resident farmers with a single farmer + tractor. Without a person in sight, Lange’s Mail boxes manages to capture a moment of plight and humbling persistence for the American rural farmer.
Like so much of her work, Mail boxes is a testament to Lange’s ability to marry tremendous artistry and tenacious journalism in equal measure. In this case, a beautifully balanced, engagingly active composition transforms dust-laden inanimate objects into something dynamic. The horizontal planes of the image are divided into relatively equal slices of sky, mailbox, field, and road, keeping the eye tracking up and down. In a modernist move, Lange shot from an unusual angle that gives her subjects a human-like presence. One mailbox faces us open, agape like a mouth on a quizzical visage. If we follow this personification to see where it leads, you might imagine the abandoned mailbox asking what happened to our livelihood?
Today’s Vintage Edition marks our thirteenth Lange release. Getting up-close-and-personal with her photographs over the years has tuned us to so many exceptional things about them, not the least of which is that Lange’s images were (and are!) conduits for empathy, opening eyes and hearts in an endeavor to effect social change. And they surely did—after all, she produced some of the most defining images of Depression-era America on behalf of a government body. Hanging on our gallery wall, Mail boxes of course brings heaps of black & white photo beauty, but it also promises something perhaps even more potent: the policy-informing power of art.