Depression, Poverty And Loneliness In A Moving Photography Exhibition

Dorothea Lange, Barbican Art Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 60 months ago

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Depression, Poverty And Loneliness In A Moving Photography Exhibition Dorothea Lange, Barbican Art Gallery 4
Poverty hits hard as a family hits the road in Oklahoma. Copyright Dorothea Lange, courtesy Library of Congress.

A woman stares into the distance, worry lines etched into her face but there's still fight in her. There has to be, as she is held by two children, each burying their heads into one of her shoulders. They are relying on her to keep them fed and clothed. This heartbreaking photograph, Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange, became a symbol of the human cost of the Great Depression in 1930s USA.

Barbican Art Gallery is showing a vast collection of Lange's photographs alongside those of British photographer Vanessa Winship. It's a double bill of heartache — be warned that while this is a powerful double header, some of the photos are tough to see.

Lange's famous Migrant Mother. © The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

Lange gives us economic downturn from a human lens — suited men lie asleep in the streets, rusted cars sit by the highways and families wonder where their next meal will come from.

A man has his back to the crowd he's in. He's surrounded by people but looks desperately alone. Nearby a man sits on a pile of bricks, his head hanging low with his upturned wheelbarrow next to him acting as a symbol of his misfortune.

Surrounded by people but looking so alone. © The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

During the second world war, she also photographed Japanese families in the US before they were sent to internment camps. Uncertainty can be seen in their eyes, as they have no idea what awaits them.

Lange's work is a haunting look back in time but it saddens us further to know she has captured something that still happens on daily basis — whether it be refugees fleeing Syria or families trying to cross into the USA, that look of despair is something that remains a large part of the world we live in.

Winship breaks from the horror to capture a dancer. © Vanessa Winship

Where Lange excels is in capturing that hundred yard stare that comes when we escape to another place so we don't have to face the reality in front of us, perfectly summed up in a breastfeeding mother whose body is with her baby but her mind is miles away.

Vanessa Winship's photos are across the top floor of the exhibition and it's a more widely travelled and varied series of works, with both portraits and landscapes from across Europe and North America.

That transition from youth to adulthood is where Winship excels. © Vanessa Winship

One of her stand out series of photos looks at communities in the war torn Balkans. There's a sadness and anxiety in these images but they don't quite capture the moment like Lange's works downstairs.

Where Winship does manage to set herself apart is in her series of youthful sitters capturing their innocence one last time as they make the transition into adulthood.

Winship is a talented photographer but she's not in Lange's league. After we were winded by the strength of the depressing photographs downstairs, the upstairs section struggles to hold our attention — but that may be because we were emotionally drained by Dorothea Lange's hard hitting photography.

Dorothea Lange - ★★★★☆
Vanessa Winship - ★★★☆☆

Dorothea Lange / Vanessa Winship is on at Barbican Art Gallery until 2 September 2018. Tickets are £13.50 for adults.

Last Updated 25 June 2018