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White angel breadline, San Francisco

printed 1940s


Dorothea Lange

United States of America

26 May 1895 - 11 Oct 1965


'There are moments such as these when time stands still and all you do is hold your breath and hope it will wait for you. And you just hope you will have enough time to get it organised in a fraction of a second on that tiny piece of sensitive film. Sometimes you have an inner sense that you have encompassed the thing generally. You know then that you are not taking anything away from anyone: their privacy, their dignity, their wholeness.' Dorothea Lange 1963 1

Dorothea Lange is widely recognised as one of the major figures in 20th century American photography. After working in various photography studios including that of Arnold Genthe, she settled in San Francisco in 1918 where she met Imogen Cunningham among others. Lange photographed continuously throughout the 1920s, however it was not until the 1930s that her style of socially committed photography began to develop when she moved beyond her studio portraiture business and focused her lens on the changing mood and character of the people she observed on the streets in her neighbourhood. Lange went on to work alongside Walker Evans and Ben Shahn documenting the misery of the American Depression, and from 1935 became a key figure photographing for the American government Farm Security Administration (FSA) program. Her most famous image, ‘Migrant mother’ 1936, forms part of the extensive work she did for the FSA project.

‘White angel breadline, San Francisco’ is Lange's first major image that encapsulates both her sense of compassion and ability to structure a photograph according to modernist principles. The diagonals of the fence posts and the massing of hats do not reduce this work to the purely formal – the figure in the front middle of the image acts as a lightening rod for our emotional engagement.

1. Davis K F 1995, ‘The photographs of Dorothea Lange’, Hallmark Cards Inc, Missouri p 20

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007



printed 1940s

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


35.5 x 28.0 cm


Purchased with funds provided by Roderick and Gillian Deane, Amanda and Andrew Love, Ginny and Leslie Green, Egil Paulsen, Josef and Jeanne Lebovic, Anonymous, Russell Mills, Suzanne Steigrad, Graham and Mary Bierman and the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Dorothea Lange

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2003 [for the year ended 30 June 2003], 'Year in review', pg.14-35, Sydney, 2003, 20 (illus.).

Robert Coles and Therese Thau Heyman, Dorothea Lange: photographs of a lifetime, New York, 1982, 45.

Keith Davis, The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Kansas City, 1995, jacket (illus.), 21 (illus.).

Edwynn Houk Gallery, Dorothea Lange: eloquent witness: an exhibition of vintage photographs, Chicago, 1989, 23.

Therese Thau Heyman, Celabrating a collection: the work of Dorothea Lange, California, 1978, 57.

Martyn Jolly, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'International photo-documentary', pg.151-167, Sydney, 2007, 150 (illus.),152, 159 (illus.).