Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship’s joint exhibition in London shows political photography from two very different time periods – yet similarities abound.
Hanne Ramsdal
Hanne is a is a writer and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 20, 2018

There is the hot summer. There is London and the brown waters of the Thames and Theresa May, having taken a holiday break from the Brexit-commotion. There is my son and there is me, our third summer in London – the warmest since the ‘40s. It is a wake-up call, people say – but will it be remembered as such? Will the menacing heat burn itself sufficiently into our memory? On our way to the exhibition we talk about such things. About what will happen to photography in a time where it no longer represents truth.

The story of the history

Mother and child (1928) by Dorothea Lange © The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

My son is fourteen now and the wars are on his mind – World War I and World War II. His historical interest opens up a passage for him into the games I don’t play, the concepts I’m unfamiliar with or mispronounce. He spent the spring months selling toilet paper in the neighbourhood to earn money for a school excursion with «the white buses» to Auschwitz and Treblinka. He understands the scope of fake news. Pictures can lie. There is a difference between documentation and propaganda.

The first London day is spent at the Imperial War Museum, where we see parts of Triumph of the Will from 1935, the Nazi propaganda movie whose director Leni Riefenstahl stubbornly claimed was a documentary, a view she held all her life. Hitler is depicted as a demi-god descending from the sky to greet the people at the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg in 1934. Even a cat on a windowsill turns to him as he glides through town in an open car.

I have told my son that the exhibition we are going to visit might show other sides of the story than those we saw at the war museum. Because of this he comes with me, despite his indisposition. We are going to see the photographs of the British Vanessa Winship and the American Dorothea Lange (1895-1965).

Connections

My son has already been shown Lange’s famous picture of Florence Owens Thompson from the depression in the USA, known as «Migrant Mother». The picture is iconic but not …


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