The photographer to U. S. Camera Annual, circa 1934
Gifted by the photographer to an editor at U. S. Camera Annual, following the picture's publication and exhibition
Acquired by the present owner from the above, early 1980s
Other prints of this image, with variant croppings:
T. J. Maloney, U. S. Camera 1935, p. 157
Ansel Adams, How To Do It Series, No. 8: Making a Photograph, An Introduction to Photography (New York, 1935), p. 93
John Szarkowski, Dorothea Lange (The Museum of Modern Art, 1966, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 20
Therese Thau Heyman, Celebrating a Collection: The Work of Dorothea Lange (The Oakland Museum, 1978, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 57
Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime (Aperture, 1982), p. 45
Therese Thau Heyman, Sandra S. Phillips, and John Szarkowski, Dorothea Lange: American Photographs (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1994, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 1
Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange, Archive of an Artist (Oakland Museum, 1995), p. 9
Keith F. Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange (Kansas City, 1995), cover and p. 21
Pierre Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer (Boston, 2002), p. 71
Barbara Haskell, The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-1950 (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 483
Vicki Goldberg and Robert Silberman, American Photography: A Century of Images (San Francisco, 1999), p. 82
Marianne Fulton, Eyes of Time: Photojournalism in America (Boston, 1988, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 133
The early print of Lange's famous White Angel Breadline offered here likely represents the first state of the image, made closer to the time of the negative than any print to have come to the market in recent years. In successive printings, Lange retouched areas of the print or the negative, and varied her cropping of the composition. Reproduced innumerable times since its making, the photograph has been also cropped by countless picture editors of the magazines and books in which it has appeared. The unaltered, full-frame format of the print offered here, with the photographer's early Gough Street studio label on the reverse, represents Lange's original conception of the image.
Taken in 1933, during San Francisco's depression years, White Angel Breadline depicts the isolation, as well as the dignity, of poverty, as one man turns away from a breadline sponsored by a wealthy community widow known as 'the White Angel.' At the time of its making, Lange was a portrait photographer. Her successful San Francisco studio catered to an affluent clientele, and her reputation among the city's artistic set was assured (see Lot 159 for a fine, early portrait study by Lange). But the breadline was not far from her studio, and on one occasion, she ventured into the crowd to take pictures. 'I made [White Angel Breadline] on the first day I ever went in an area where people said, "Oh, don't go there," she related to an interviewer. 'It was on the first day that I ever made a photograph actually on the street' (quoted in Photographs of a Lifetime, p. 44). The image, one of Lange's most memorable, became a prototype for the photographs of the down-and-out she would make during her F. S. A. years. 'I had to get my camera to register the things that were more important than how poor they were--their pride, their strength, their spirit' (quoted in Restless Spirit, p. 47).
White Angel Breadline became Lange's first significant image, and among the first to make her reputation outside the world of society portraiture. As George P. Elliott wrote in his introduction to the catalogue for her retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, 'This image does not derive its power from formal elegance so much as from its being inextricably entangled with the comment it is making. It is art for life's sake' (Dorothea Lange, New York, 1966, p. 8). The image was included in Edward Steichen's 1955 Family of Man exhibition and book, where it was reproduced, along with Lange's Migrant Mother, opposite a line from Virgil, 'What region of the earth is not full of our calamities?'
Although a number of prints of White Angel Breadline have come to the market in recent years, it would appear that none were made as close to the time of the negative as the print offered here. Like the unretouched thumb in Lange's Migrant Mother--a telling detail that indicates the early state of the image--the presence of the round spot of light, or reflection, near the upper right corner of White Angel Breadline denotes an early printing from the negative. This round, light area is retouched out on many later prints, and subsequently on the negative, although tell-tale traces of the spot sometimes remain (cf. Sotheby's New York, Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art, 23 April 1994, Sale 6552, Lot 228, for a print in which the re-touching can be clearly seen). In other versions of the image, a tight cropping eliminates this area all together, focusing the picture on the man in the white hat and removing the sense of perspective so present in the print offered here. In the present image, the restless, milling crowd, the interplay of faces and hats, the raised perspective, recall elements of the early work of Paul Strand, known to Lange from her years in New York where she began her career as a photographer.
Lange's 'Pictures of People / Dorothea Lange / 2515 Gough St. San Francisco' studio label on the reverse of the present mount is scarce. It is believed that Lange moved her studio to this address no later that 1934, and it is possible she was living there at the time White Angel Breadline was made. In 1935, she moved to Berkeley, where her studio address was 2706 Virginia Street; it is this later Berkeley address that was inscribed on an important print of the image sold in these rooms in October 2005 (Sale 8115, Lot 115, Photographs from the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago).
In 1935, the photography annual U. S. Camera published a cropped version of White Angel Breadline. Although the exact details are uncertain, it is known that in conjunction with its yearly volume, U. S. Camera sponsored traveling exhibitions of the year's best photographs. The markings on the print offered here, its provenance, and its exhibition-style mount, indicate that it may have been included in such an exhibition. Early printings comparable to the present photograph are rare: at the time of this writing, only one print in an institutional collection has been located, in The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
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