The Art of Change: Dorothea Lange / Vanessa Winship - A photography double bill

Dorothea Lange
San Francisco, California. 'Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets'. Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education, 1942. Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C122
As part of The Art of Change season at Barbican, the works of two important female artists are currently being showcased in a comprehensive exhibition that aims to touch and inspire a new generation. Through exploring this notion of change, and more specifically how artists ʻrespond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape…ʼ the collective works of Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship certainly demonstrate how art can spur within us visceral feelings that can motivate positive action.

The exhibitionʼs double bill runs until 2 September 2018, and presents an extensive catalogue of work from two of the most important documentary photographers of the contemporary period.

In Dorothea Lange: The Politics of Seeing, the diverse collection of works aims to illustrate how the artist behind the camera contributed much more than her 1936 iconic black and white portrait Migrant Mother that made her such an acclaimed figure in the photographic world. Demonstrating her early penchant for portraiture, the journey begins with her black and white photography of the 1920ʼs, continuing on until the 1950ʼs, as Lange documented the various social changes that manifested throughout modern America.

Her series of unconventional portraits, arid landscapes and open frontiers, where she witnessed the great migrations to California from the ʻDust-Bowl Statesʼ during Americaʼs Great Depression, bare an impartial impression of the people and the wide-open spaces within the frame… influencing such writers as John Steinbeck and filmmakers like John Ford and Anthony Mann.

Dorothea Lange
‘Cars on the Road, August’ 1936. Library of Congress.

Undoubtably, the numerous displaced families, farmers ravaged by drought and urbanization, and masses of unemployed men and women on skid row that Lange encountered when out with her camera affected her deeply; and her ongoing socially- conscious themed work that continued well into the 1950ʻs is testament to this.

ʻThe camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera…ʼ – Dorothea Lange

The Politics of Seeing presents a broader body of work from an artist that is as important to the contemporary world as she ever was; including early pamphlets, publications, personal letters and archival footage (filmed at her Berkeley home and studio in the final year of her life) and presented in two 28 minute films.

In the first large-scale UK exhibition dedicated to her work, Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds encompasses seven bodies of work, including archival material, journal pages and published collections from one of Britainʼs finest contemporary photographers.

Vanessa Winship
‘Untitled’ from the series Black Sea: Between Chronicle and Fiction, 2002-2006
© Vanessa Winship
A choreographer of the states greatest dance company, the world at his feet, had gone on tour with his wife, a young and beautiful dancer. One night after a show a group had gone out to celebrate. They were strangers in that town and didn’t know the streets. A robbery occurred, his young wife had her jewellery snatched. There was a fight, and in the fray a terrible and fatal accident happened. He had fallen into a deep an impenetrable depression. No one knew what to do or how to console him.

From her first major project, Imagined States and Desires: A Balkan Journey (chronicled and compiled during her travels through Albania, Kosovo and Serbia in the early 2000ʼs) to her most recent work And Time Folds, where she attempts to capture the world through the inquisitive and playfully wondrous eye of a child, Winshipʼs vast collection of work, in her own words:
ʻ…focuses on the junction between chronicle and fiction, exploring ideas around concepts of borders, land, memory, desire, identity and history…ʼ

Whether itʼs her striking portraits (Sweet Nothings, Georgia:Seeds Carried By The Wind), or her wide framing of open spaces (Black Sea: Between Chronicle and Fiction, She Dances on Jackson) there is a strong sense of realism within the frame. And this innate ability to encapsulate these environments that itʼs characters inhabit with an impartial eye is what makes these works so significant.

Winshipʼs art shares a similar thread to Lange, in that they both open a window to notable periods of cultural, political and social change within various important periods of modern history. The camera can be an affectively unbiased tool for inspiring and implementing change within the grassroots of society, and certain artists only come around every so often.

The Art of Change Season at Barbican
Dorothea Lange / Vanessa Winship
A photography double bill
22 June – 2 September 2018

By Sonny Arifien


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