The Inspiration of Dorthea Lange

Last week I had the pleasure of watching the American Masters documentary on PBS about one of my heroes, Great Depression photographer Dorthea Lange.  Her work has greatly influenced my abandoned farmhouse hunting and photography whenever I visit my family in South Dakota.  Dorthea’s compassion and unyielding desire to tell the tragic and heroic stories of our nation’s poor, interned and displaced through photography woke our nation up.  Dorthea’s images prompted more action than print alone could possibly ever have conveyed.

I’ve always found great beauty among the ruins in all forms.  Things that are new just don’t give me much creative juice.  I like to see everything worn out, faded, distressed and destroyed.  To me there’s always a lot more stories among the ruins.

“It is not enough to photograph the obviously picturesque.”


“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.”

—Dorthea Lange

You can watch the American Masters documentary online or look on demand from your local listings.

These images I shot with my niece south of Burke, South Dakota in January.  I’m guessing someone will recognize the house, my sincere apologies for trespassing.  The pull to see what was inside was just too much for us to resist.

There are links to Dorthea’s biography and images if you scroll down.



Dorthea Lange’s biography

Dorthea Lange’s photographs

All roads lead to home/SELF


teepee farmhouse lillibridge dakota 1966

The circular pattern of the teepee is meant to represent a mother figure. It means being balanced in the four parts that are found in the four directions of the Medicine Wheel. These four parts for humans are the spiritual, physical, emotional and mental aspects of self. I was really struck by a sculpture that represented to teepee near Lake Francis on the Missouri River when I was home for my 30 year high school reunion. I’ve learned a lot more about American Indian traditions since I left home 25 years ago. I simply wasn’t as interested or able to see the beauty in the symbols until I had some distance. Now, as a partner and mother the symbolism makes so much more sense and I want to know more.

The fire is in the center of the Medicine Wheel. That is where the meaning of the teachings comes from. This fire is about self. When you look at the Medicine Wheel, you start from self. And as you look out, you make your circle. What we do in between is our own journey. This was pretty cool to be reminded of as I saw classmates and other people I hadn’t seen for years.

I chose to layer the teepee image onto the photo from an abandoned farmhouse my Mom and I walked through Monday. When I saw these images together, they really resonated with me as an image of home, change, leaving, returning, family of origin and desire to understand self in this complicated world. It was an interesting weekend in a small town in southern South Dakota indeed.