July 08, 2014

Dorothea Lange (Library of Congress Project)

As part of it's public service, The Library of Congress (USA) offers the intriguing possibility of downloading scans of the original negatives from the Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans legacies, including work from the Farm Securities Administration commissions, taken during the terrible drought that took place in the American mid-west food bowl, at the same time of the stock market crash in the 1930's and the resulting depression.
These images are free from all restrictions in relation to their use, as part of the commission.
To be able to see the uncropped negatives is quite amazing and then to compare them to the final reproduced versions even more so.


Up to 2011, the public was able to purchase darkroom prints made from the negatives, but this service is no longer available.

Many of the scans are in the 25 Mb to 35 Mb range, although some of my favourite images are only 250 Kb or so (a real disappointment, suggesting these were scanned for web images only… given the amount of effort in taking negatives out to scan, it is disappointing to not have all of them scanned at a suitable resolution for printing or studying in closer detail).
The first image here is the original 4"x 5" Dorothea Lange negative scan (titled 'Migrant Mother' 1936) and below is my final version cropped and modified and hopefully sympathetic to the final versions seen in various reproductions by the artist. I have cleaned up minor imperfections in the scans, cropped the image slightly and made some tonal and structural changes as any photographer would. I have also tried to replicate the types of darkroom papers and print toner combinations that would have been available to photographers in the 1930's. It is a powerful image that really captures the anguish and despair of the time...



Migrant Mother, 1936


Dorothea used a Graflex 4" x 5" camera at this stage, and here is an image of her on top of her car with her camera in hand ...






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