Hartnell Photo Exhibit Presents Women’s Perspective on Pre-War America

Publish Date: 
Feb 4, 2019
Photo of Distressed woman and her three children at a camp of impoverished workers in Nipomo, Calif

Works by Lange and Wolcott on display through Feb. 28

SALINAS, Calif. — An exhibit of photographs by Dorothea Lange and Marion Post Wolcott, women who documented pre-war rural American poverty for the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA), will continue through Feb. 28 in the Hartnell Gallery at Hartnell College in Salinas.

On display are 42 black-and-white images selected from Hartnell’s collection of more than 200 FSA works, shot from 1935-44 to promote federal spending on agricultural modernization. The exhibit on the Main Campus is open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. weekdays and 5-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday in the first-floor gallery of the Visual Arts Building (J). Admission is free.

Most familiar among the silver gelatin prints is “Migrant Mother,” which Lange took in 1936 of a distressed woman and her three children at a camp of impoverished workers in Nipomo, Calif. Displayed around it are several others Lange took while approaching the family group. In this context, it’s evident the mother is reacting to the sudden attention, touching her chin as the two little girls shyly turn away.

David Ligare, a Salinas painter and former Hartnell instructor, called the photo “one of the great works of art of the 20th century,” in his introduction to a 1984-85 “Visual Hartnell College” calendar of FSA images. That calendar’s photo for March was by Wolcott, of horses scampering across a snowy Virginia farm field in 1940.

Lange, born in 1895 in Hoboken, N.J., established her reputation with photographs of unemployed men and migrant workers, and in 1940 she won the Guggenheim Fellowship. Wolcott, whose work also documented the Tennessee Valley before it became the pilot site for U.S. rural electrification. She was born in 1910 in Montclair, N.J.

Hartnell Gallery Director Gary Smith, a retired ceramics professor, said the women’s photos were singled out in celebration of “The Year of the Woman,” The Western Stage theater’s theme for its 2019 season.

“Both made very powerful images that I think stand up to any photographs made anytime,” Smith said. “Their focus was humanity and compassion, and I think they shared it in different ways.”

The FSA photography project was initiated by U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Rexford G. Tugwell, who Smith said appointed Colorado sociologist Roy Emerson Stryker to assemble images that would build public appreciation for modern agricultural equipment and practices.

Stryker wanted Lange, Wolcott and other FSA photographers to “also look around at what people do with their spare time, how they are preparing meals and so on,” Smith said. “He slowly created what I think is probably the most complete record of any 10-year period in rural America. And he was conscious of the transition of America between rural and urban.”

An exhibit of U.S. Farm Security Administration photographs by Dorothea Lange and Marion Post Wolcott will be on display through Feb. 28 in the Hartnell Gallery on the Main Campus of Hartnell College, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. weekdays and 5-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Visual Arts Building (J), 411 W. Central Ave., Salinas. Admission is free. Information: (831) 755-6793.