The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts is pleased to present the photography exhibition “Dorothea Lange in Oregon,” in the Runyan Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center from August 7 to September 12. The touring exhibition of Dorothea Lange’s 1939 Oregon photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a New Deal agency, has been curated and developed by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (OCHC). A public discussion and media presentation by David Milholland, OCHC’s director, is being scheduled for August. The opening reception will be on August 7, 5-7pm, at the Newport Visual Arts Center.
Dorothea Lange has long been recognized as an artist of conscience and humanist values. The exhibition highlights New Deal projects in Oregon, especially the rural initiatives, and the lasting impact from employment of capable artists.
Lange’s Oregon images capture the plight and prospects of many people, some long-time Oregon residents and many others just swept in from the Dust Bowl misery across the U.S. heartland. Her charge included the portrayal of federal agencies’ good works in a crushing period economically. Intent on demonstrating the survival of traditional values and the persistence of social cohesion among rural Americans, FSA director Roy Stryker instructed his photographers never to ridicule their subjects. The effort ultimately generated some 270,000 images, “the largest photographic project of a people ever undertaken,” according to the FDR Presidential Library.
The images Lange took in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest have long remained invisible. Terminated from the FSA for the third time in 1939, partially for budgetary reasons but also due to feuds with the bureaucracy, Lange did not see her unpublished Oregon photographs until 25 years later. Several years ago, Portland historian Mike Munk urged the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (OCHC) to mount an exhibit of Lange’s Oregon photographs, available online through the Library of Congress. With financial backing from individual supporters and three small grants, OCHC contracted with Portland photographer Rick Regan and Technical Imaging Services to print enlarged editions of 48 digitized negatives. Appropriate captions from Lange’s field notes are matched with each photograph.
As a visual sociologist, Lange sought to put words and images together by quoting her subjects and attaching extended captions and notations to her pictures. She believed a photograph should be “a promoter of consequences.”
“Lange’s camera observes pointedly the course of humble lives trying to re-emerge:
hop farmers and lumber workers laboring, or conversely, idling; young children hanging out or similarly working next to their parents in fields; and the desolate, dirt-strewn canvas cities where these lives were being reshaped,” writes D.K. Row of The Oregonian.
Extensive support materials and related programs have been developed to accompany the exhibition. The collection debuted at Portland State University’s Littman Gallery in the fall of 2009, and has since been shown at the Washington County Historical Museum, Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario and the Wayne Morse Center at the University of Oregon Law School in Eugene.
The Runyan Gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-6pm.