Exhibition Overview

Through the lens of her camera, Dorothea Lange documented American life with riveting, intimate photographs that portrayed some of the most powerful moments of the 20th century. Lange was driven by the belief that seeing the effects of injustice could provoke reform and, just perhaps, change the world. From documenting the plight of Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression to illuminating the grim conditions of incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II, Lange’s photographs demonstrate how empathy and compassion—focused through art—can sway minds and prompt change throughout this nation’s history. See how Lange’s work continues to resonate with millions and inspire new generations of artist-activists, illustrating the power of photography as a form of social activism.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is organized by the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board and the Henry Luce Foundation. Funding for this exhibition and related programs is provided in part by an Anonymous Donor, Susan J. Roeder, Oklahoma Humanities (OH) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed do not necessarily reflect those of OH or NEH.

Picture this Website

“Several of Dorothea Lange’s photographs can be examined more closely on the Oakland Museum of California’s Picture This: California Perspectives on History website—underlined title in blue text are direct links to specific images. The Picture This website provides historical context for important eras in California history, and Dorothea Lange’s photographs are featured in multiple sections, including the “Depression Era: 1930s” and “World War II Homefront Era: 1940s.”” Click Here.

Dorothea Lange Archive

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing and these teacher resources draw heavily from the Oakland Museum of California’s Dorothea Lange Collection, a rich assemblage of primary sources. This personal archive was a gift from the artist. It includes approximately 25,000 negatives, 6,000 vintage prints, field notes, and personal memorabilia. Pieces from this archive are also featured in both our permanent Art and History Galleries. To view more images from the archive, visit the Dorothea Lange tab on our OMCA Collections website.” Click Here.


Events & Programming

Exhibition Elements

Exhibition Elements

Most of Lange’s photos were published anonymously, and when she died in 1965, few people truly recognized her talent and contributions. As a result, most people today recognize Migrant Mother, but not Lange’s name. Lange often said a single image was an idea, two grouped together were a phrase and five or more became a sentence. People might recognize Migrant Mother but by Lange’s determination, it is just one word. This exhibition will provide sentences.

Drawing upon vintage prints, unedited proof sheets, personal memorabilia and historic objects, this exhibition takes a unique approach and will be the first to examine the extraordinary emotional power of Lange’s work through the lens of social and political activism. Visitors will read Lange’s words and hear her voice. They will learn about her process and approach; the difference between looking at something and truly seeing it; and leave the exhibition with a better appreciation of her artistry and advocacy, as well as an increased awareness of the ways photography can be used to sway minds and prompt change. In an age of cell phone cameras and social media, a critical and informed awareness of the power of photographs has become an obligation of citizenship.