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The Getty Museum Presents Two Exhibitions of Photographs Documenting American Life by Dorothea Lange and Horace Bristol

About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange and The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol's California Photographs
October 15, 2002-February 9, 2003

September 23, 2002

LOS ANGELES—The J. Paul Getty Museum will present powerful images documenting American life by photographers Dorothea Lange (American, 1895–1965) and Horace Bristol (American, 1908–1997) in two exhibitions that will run concurrently from October 15, 2002 to February 9, 2003. About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange and The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol’s California Photographs feature haunting images taken during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. The photographs illustrate the stark realities of Depression-era life and offer a dramatic pictorial history of the American experience before, during, and after World War II. 

The two exhibitions offer the opportunity to compare the works of Lange and Bristol, each of whom practiced an individual style of documentary photography. The influence of their pictures can be seen in the works of countless artists, and in other media such as film and literature. Their images have helped shape America's vision of its own history and people. The exhibitions will include new acquisitions not previously seen by the public, as well as loans from members of the Lange and Bristol families.

"Dorothea Lange is one of the most important American photographers of our time and one of the most significant women in the history of the field," said Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "Her striking, emotional images have come to define how we see and understand the Great Depression, creating both a historical record and an expressive interpretation of some of the most turbulent times in this country. By expanding our Lange holdings with recent acquisitions, we are now able to show a significant number of these famous works alongside her lesser-known images to present the entire scope of her talent and career."

"Horace Bristol's work," Gribbon continued, "offers an insightful, stirring account of American history with a photojournalistic style that continues to be used as a foundation for other photographers as well as artists in other genres. We chose to mount these exhibitions together to explore the relationship between two photographers with parallel interests."

About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange

Featuring approximately 80 photographs drawn primarily from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange spans 40 years of the artist’s career and presents a broad range of work, including her most famous photograph, Human Erosion in California/Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936), and images of other displaced Dust Bowl farmers who epitomize the despair and uncertainty of Depression-era life. Also included are rarely seen photographs of her family and images depicting life in Asia and the Middle East. Lange’s work is a visual and emotional journey that travels from the pre-World War II pueblos of New Mexico to the concrete jungles of San Francisco’s labor strikes, through California's San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys. Throughout, Lange captures the trials and triumphs of the human condition during some of the most difficult periods in American history. 

"Lange's talent is often associated with just one photograph—Migrant Mother," said Judith Keller, associate curator in the Getty Museum's department of photographs. "This exhibition seeks to present a broader picture of Lange's accomplishments in photography, and offers insight about the depth of her passion and lifelong interest in social concerns."

About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange is offered in three sections. Lange and Dixon in the Southwest opens the exhibition with a series of photographs taken between 1923 and 1931 depicting family life with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon, as well as her interest in the Native American peoples of New Mexico and Arizona. Her photography in the rural Southwest allowed her to experiment with new subject matter while maintaining her preference for the portrait work she practiced in San Francisco. This experience brought new depth and dimension to Lange’s work, as can be seen in a series of 1931 prints of the Taos Indians and their ritual dances, and in Hopi Man, Arizona (1923). 

The exhibition continues with The Great Depression and Wartime America, a group of photographs taken between 1935 and 1945 for the federal government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA), War Relocation Authority, and Office of War Information. Featuring several new acquisitions that have not been seen by the public, this section creates a moving document of the effects of social and political upheavals over two decades of turmoil leading from the Depression to the War. Migrant Mother (originally titled Human Erosion in California/Facing Starvation) joins a selection of images of other impoverished farm workers throughout the country. This section of photographs shows the realities of that time—workers waiting to file unemployment claims, breadlines, labor strikes, the 1942 internment of Japanese-Americans, and the appearance of "Rosie the Riveter" in California's shipyards. 

Battling Illness – Continuing a Career concludes the exhibition with a selection of Lange's work of the 1950s and 1960s. Although her war effort left her exhausted and ill, Lange continued her life's work and passion. She proposed a series of photo essay ideas to picture magazines, and helped found the photography magazine Aperture. The work she completed during the twilight years of her life is represented through photographs of the Cold War family (using her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren as subjects), and other images that reflected her own impression of America's changing social landscape. As she regained her health, she expanded her portfolio with the photographs of Utah's Mormon communities that she created for Life magazine, and images she found in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt while traveling extensively with second husband, labor economist Paul Taylor.

The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol's California Photographs

The concurrent exhibition, The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol's California Photographs, allows the Getty Museum to demonstrate the impact of Lange’s work on other artists. Inspired by Lange's powerful images for the FSA, photographer Horace Bristol embarked on a project to document the lives of migrant workers in California camps. This in turn provided the groundwork for John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, and John Ford's 1940 film based on it. While Bristol's work takes its cue from Lange’s vision, it stands alone as a powerful record of American history and an insightful expression of American culture. Featuring many new acquisitions, the exhibition includes portraits of grim-faced workers set against rainy winter skies, creating an aura of darkness that speaks to their plight. Bristol's overall technique of sympathetic yet factual treatment of his subject—whether close-up or at a distance—resonates with Lange's style. 

Bristol began his career as a photojournalist in San Francisco in the early 1930s, working for magazines including Time, Sunset, Fortune, and Life. Convinced that the migrant workers had a compelling story that needed to be told, Bristol proposed a collaboration with the writer John Steinbeck. In the winter of 1937–38, together they visited migrant camps in Central California and documented what they saw, each interpreting the same subject and shared experiences for their respective mediums. Steinbeck chose not to use the Bristol photographs for the book. However, soon after Steinbeck's book and Ford's subsequent film appeared, Bristol's photographs were published by Life to illustrate stories about the book and film. The Getty Museum's exhibition includes these magazine issues to complement a selection of Bristol’s photographs from the series he later titled The Grapes of Wrath. 

Bristol's Nursing Mother in Camp (1938)—which he later renamed Rose of Sharon to reflect the Steinbeck character—is reminiscent of Lange's Migrant Mother. Like Lange's photographs, Bristol's images illustrate the harsh and desolate conditions tolerated by the homeless farmers, whose lives consisted of seasonal hard labor and the constant search for the basic necessities of life. A 1939 issue of Fortune magazine, also included in the exhibition, uses both artists' work to illustrate an anonymous article titled "Along the Road." 

Related Publication:

The J. Paul Getty Museum will publish In Focus: Dorothea Lange – Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum in October 2002. The 144-page book examines Lange's life and work, and contains 52 duotone illustrations and an edited transcript of a colloquium on Lange. The book includes Lange's personal compositions made at home in the 1950s, later images from an extensive trip to Asia and the Middle East, and an examination of 46 of the Getty Museum’s 124 Lange photographs by Judith Keller, associate curator of the Getty Museum's department of photographs. The book is the 13th installment of the Museum's series of publications devoted to photographers represented in its collection. It is available in the Museum bookstore, online at, or by calling 800-223-3431. (Paperback: $17.50)

Related Programs:

All events are free and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300, or visit

California in the 1930s: The Documentarian Impulse
Kevin Starr, state librarian and professor of history at University of Southern California, lectures on the vital coalescence of such disparate art forms as the novel, photography, mural art, journalism, and even government reports to document the anguish of the Great Depression.
Sunday, October 27, 4:00 pm

Frames of Reference: Photographers on Photography
Photographer Mary Ellen Mark speaks about her work and the tradition of social documentary photography.
Sunday, November 17, 4:00 p.m.

Point-of-View Talks
Talks are held at 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. in the Museum galleries. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Friday, December 13
Clarence Williams, a staff photojournalist for the Los Angeles Times and founding member of the Iris Photo Collective, discusses the exhibition About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange.

Friday, January 17, 2003
Donna Granata, a portrait photographer and founder and executive director of Focus on the Masters, discusses the exhibition The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol’s California Photographs. 

Online Curriculum:  

In collaboration with teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Getty Museum has developed an online educational curriculum for grades 2-12 that uses the Lange photographs as a tool for teaching and exploring aspects of the visual arts, language arts, and American history. The curriculum includes background information about Lange, lesson plans, and other resources to help teachers use Lange's images in their classrooms. The entire series consists of 12 lesson plans, with three plans developed for elementary school use and nine plans for high-school learning.
All of the lessons are written to reflect the California State Content Standards for education. The curriculum also includes activities that can be used by students when they visit the exhibition. The online curriculum will be available in late October, and may accessed through the Getty's Web site, or by visiting the Getty Museum's Teacher Resource Center. This fall, the Getty Museum will also host a workshop related to the curriculum. 

Statewide Reading Program:

"California Stories: Reading The Grapes of Wrath" encourages Californians to read and discuss John Steinbeck's classic novel during October 2002. The program is sponsored by the California Center for the Book.
Visit  for related events.

Note to Editors: images available upon request

To read more about the exhibitions, click here:

About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange

The Grapes of Wrath: Horace Bristol’s California Photographs

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.