Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth

dorotheas-eyesBy Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Gérard DuBois. Calkins Creek, 2016. 40 pages. $16.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 8–12.

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I have always been fascinated with cameras and photographs. My mother would often find me surrounded by piles of family photo albums, looking through each one enraptured by the faces so familiar, so innocent. This is when my mother quietly slips away for she knows that if I see her I will bombard her with a thousand questions about family history: Who is this? Where was this taken? Why wasn’t I in the photo? Given my avid interest in photography, I found Dorothea’s Eyes to be a delightful story.

Barb Rosenstock presents a lyrical biography of renowned photojournalist Dorothea Lange’s life and touches on topics such as invisibility, documentary photography, portraiture, poverty, and the Great Depression. The author charts Lange’s growth from a lonely, introverted polio victim to a young adventurer who seeks to travel but instead ends up opening her own portrait studio in San Francisco, Calif.

This is a gentle and informative book. Rosenstock emphasizes that “Dorothea sees with her eyes and her heart,” and “her heart knows all about people the world ignores.” The author creates an empathetic story by establishing a connection between Lange’s creativity and the subjects of her photographs: the downtrodden, the poor and ordinary folks of America.

One of the most interesting themes in the book was invisibility, a characteristic Lange uses to her advantage behind the camera. “Dorothea pretends she’s invisible,” which allows her to be observant and blend with her surroundings. While a certain sense of invisibility is required as a photographer so as to not disturb the action being captured, one can guess from her photographs that Lange was also very people-oriented. She uses her sense of invisibility as a means to document the untold stories of Americans.

My favorite element of the book are the illustrations by Gérard DuBois. The soft, vintage-style acrylic sketches with simple and sparse backgrounds complement the empathetic tone of narration. Even the full-page drawings of young Lange in the dark room convey that sense passion that enveloped Lange as a creative artist. Toward the end of the book, Rosenstock also presents prints of Lange’s iconic photographs such as Migrant Mother and White Angel Bread Line. Teachers and parents will also find the short, detailed biographical information at the end of the book, along with suggestions for further reading and a timeline, helpful in introducing young readers to the story and works of Dorothea Lange.

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