On Dorothea Lange
Threepenny Review Summer 2010
Some years ago I saw a family photograph in my parents’ house in Menlo Park I’d never noticed before. I was struck by the balance of the composition—the way there was an undeniable center to the picture, yet with an element that pulled away. It was familiar—the center was my grandmother, Helen Hyman, born in Portland in 1892, then her early thirties, and her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, my aunt, born in San Francisco in 1920, then about five; the part of the picture that was pulling away was my mother, Eleanore, born in San Francisco in 1923, then about two. My mother was no longer talking when I found the picture, but I took it to her and asked her if she knew when it was made and if she knew who took it. She smiled and pointed to a light pencil signature in the bottom right corner: Dororthea Lange, 1925.