Dorothea Lange, ‘'White Angel Breadline' (San Francisco)’, Sotheby's

Flush-mounted, the photographer's '1163 Euclid Avenue Berkeley, California' stamp in duplicate and 'Return Print' in pencil on the reverse, flush-mounted again, titled and dated in pencil on the reverse, 1933, probably printed in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

From the Catalogue:
In 1933, the United States was in the depths of the Great Depression and Dorothea Lange was working as a portrait photographer in San Francisco. A breadline sponsored by a wealthy community widow (“The White Angel”) was not far from her studio, and Lange was inspired to take a series of candid street photographs. ‘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). White Angel Breadline became one of the photographer’s most well-known and widely reproduced images, depicting the isolation and helplessness of the masses of American citizens living in poverty.

White Angel Breadline has been variously cropped by countless picture editors of the magazines and books in which it has appeared. It exemplifies how cropping decisions affect viewer interpretation. Some versions of this image show the unaltered, full-frame format, inclusive of most of a sign at the upper right corner, buildings in the background, and a sea of men waiting in the breadline. In the most well-known version of the image, only a fraction of the sign remains in the frame, the buildings in the background are eliminated entirely, and, other than the man at the front, only one or two other men face forward. The photograph offered here presents the most focused cropping of this iconic image. Nearly all visual information in the background has been eliminated, commanding all attention on the figure who faces away from the crowd and towards Lange’s camera.

In 1935, only two years after Lange made this picture, the image was included in the photography annual U. S. Camera. The cropping chosen for the annual is remarkably similar to that of the present lot. In these tightly cropped versions of White Angel Breadline, our attention is even further honed on the central figure with his clasped hands and set jaw, emphasizing resilience, isolation, and dignity. '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).
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Thomas 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
Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange, Archive of an Artist (Oakland Museum of California, 1995), p. 9
Variant Croppings:
Thomas J. Maloney, U. S. Camera 1941, p. 116
Edward Steichen, ed., The Family of Man (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1955), p. 151
John Szarkowski, Dorothea Lange (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), p. 20
Therese Thau Heyman, Celebrating a Collection: The Work of Dorothea Lange (Oakland Museum of California, 1978), 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), pl. 1
Keith F. Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange (Kansas City, 1995), cover and p. 21
Barbara Haskell, The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-1950 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), pl. 483
Pierre Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer (Boston, 2002), p. 71
Anne Whiston Spirn, Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field (Chicago, 2008), p. 16

Gift of the photographer, 1950s
Private Collection, 2001

About Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange spent her life documenting humanity through her revealing, empathetic photographs of the lives of others. An early case of polio brought a permanent handicap in one of her limbs; also having survived childhood abandonment by her father, Lange was strong and deeply compassionate. Upon the arrival of the Great Depression in the 1930s, she used photography to share the image of those affected by hunger and unemployment. Her best known work, Migrant Mother (1936), was taken while working to document the farm families forced to migrate west in search of work. The photo depicts the severity of the Depression, humanized by Lange's composition of an impoverished woman and her children. Lange is also known for exposing the racism and human rights issues of the WWII Japanese-American internment through her images (which were censored) and as the later co-founder of Aperture Magazine.

American, May 26, 1895 - October 11, 1965, Hoboken, New Jersey