MOTHER AND BABY OF FAMILY ON THE ROAD, TULELAKE, SISKIYOU COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
with '20985-E' in pencil on the reverse, 1939
7¼ by 7⅜ in. (18.4 by 18.6 cm.)
This early print, on double-weight paper with a semi-glossy surface, is in generally excellent condition. Upon close inspection, there is a small 1/2-inch diagonal scratch in the lower left corner that does not appear to break the emulsion and is entirely unobtrusive. In high raking light, scattered superficial surface scratches and a few tiny matte deposits are visible overall. Upon very close examination, the mother's right cheek appears very faintly violet-hued and there is a small attendant swipe.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
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PhotoWest Gallery, San Diego, 1990
Paul S. Taylor, Dorothea Lange: Farm Security Administration Photographs, 1936-1939 (Glencoe, 1980), 6-55
Anne Whiston Spirn, Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field (Chicago, 2008), pl. 103
Dorothea Lange: The Crucial Years, 1930-1946 (Madrid, 2009), p. 58
The Bitter Years: Edward Steichen and The Farm Security Administration Photographs (New York, 2012), p. 180
Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime (Millerton, 1982), p. 117
Thomas Weston Fels, Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1992), cover and p. 151
Mark Durden, Dorothea Lange 55 (London, 2001), p. 103
Stu Cohen, The Likes of Us: America in the Eyes of the FSA (Boston, 2007), pp. 80-1
Pierre Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer (Boston, 2002), cover and p. 153
Michael Lesy, Long Time Coming: A Photographic Portrait of America, 1943-1959 (New York, 2002), p. 350
Dorothea Lange’s Mother and Baby of Family on the Road is startling in its intimacy. A salt-of-the-earth Madonna and Child, it is the most memorable in a series of images of the same family made in September 1939 in Tulelake, California, a small city in Northeastern Siskiyou County known for its potato and alfalfa crops. The potato harvest lasts but a few months from September through October, but in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the chance to get a month or even a day of low wages lured thousands of desperate migrant workers and their families. In Lange’s other photographs of this family, we see their jalopy, a crude traveling home laden with their possessions.
The immediacy of Mother and Baby of Family on the Road is due in part to Lange's talent for establishing trust with her subjects. Unlike many of her FSA contemporaries, Lange strove to connect with her subjects, engaging them in active conversation and often incorporating their own words into her captions. In the present image, Lange catches the mother seemingly mid-sentence. The small child stares defiantly at the camera, ready to nurse from the Coca Cola bottle at hand. Of this image, Lange wrote:
'The car is parked outside the Employment Office. The family have just arrived, before opening of the potato season. They have been on the road for one month—have sick baby.
The father worked on W.P.A. in South Dakota, “till that played out.” Three children, oldest about five. About to camp on a site without water of sanitation. They have no tent. “Been trying to get one some way.”
Mother says, of father, “What he really likes to do is to milk cows. He can do a little of everything, but that’s what he likes.”
Father washed the baby’s face with edge of blanket dampened from canteen for the photographs.'
(General Caption No. 65)
At the time of this writing, it is believed that no other print of this image has been offered at auction.