Video: Dorothea Lange: “Grab a Hunk of Lightning”

Video: Dorothea Lange: “Grab a Hunk of Lightning”, American Masters, PBS

This video is a documentary about Dorothea Lange, the photographer who took one of the most iconic photographic images in American History: “The Migrant Mother” during the 1930’s depression.  Our reading selection from last April, Mary Coin, by Marisa Silver was a novelized version of Dorothea Lange’s life.

Dorothea Lange had a career with several distinct periods of subject material and style.  She developed into a successful studio portrait photographer in the 1920’s, shooting mainly society women.  When the depression came about, she went down to the docks in San Francisco and took pictures of the striking longshoremen, and the destitute in bread lines.  She was able to bring her artistic talent as a studio portrait photographer to her images in the field to create powerful statements that personified the times.  She was hired by the US government to take photos of migrant workers which were widely published and instrumental in bringing aid to the poor.  During WW II she was hired by the military to document the internment of Japanese Americans on the West coast.  Her photos revealed a little too much of the truth rather than sanitizing the event as they wanted.  She was fired and her photos were impounded.  In the 1950’s she photographed environmental destruction in California, such as a valley in which a whole town and farms were completely removed for the creation of a reservoir.  The last period of her life was spent going through her all her images to compose a retrospective show at the New York Museum of Modern Art.  She died four months before the show opened.

The video is beautiful and engaging to watch and the power and poetry of her images captivating.  Here is the link:

Bill Sargeant


State of the City Forum #4 with author David Talbot

David Talbot, the author of Season of the Witch, our selection from last June, will be at Modern Times Bookstore Collective on September 18, 2015 from 7:00 to 8:30pm.  Modern Times is located at 2919 24th Street, between Alabama and Bryant Streets, in San Francisco.  Also listed on this forum are; filmmaker, Joe Talbot, and Karen and Greg Johnson of the Marcus Bookstore.

“Angel” by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one)

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

This month’s selection is the novel, Angel, by the English author, Elizabeth Taylor who lived between 1912-1975 and published this work in 1957.  Sharing the name, Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most recognizable household names of the 20th century, apparently had an ironic effect for this author. She is said to be considerably underrated. This is my first introduction to her and I liked the book and plan on reading another one of her’s soon.

The story takes place from the late 19th century up to the late 1940’s in England and centers on a teenage girl who becomes a highly successful, though amusingly bad, romantic author.  Angel is a strong-willed person who sees everything her way with little impact from others, be they her mother, aunt, school friends, teacher, publisher, husband, etc.  She has a strong imagination which becomes the wellspring for her rise to fame and fortune when channelled into her writing.  Since she also sees the external world through her lens of fancy rather than as things are, it brings her both her success, and shields her from the wrath of critics and the reality of her eventual downfall.   Angel has little or no regard for the feelings of others except for a man she is becomes infatuated with and later marries. He, in turn, has no regard for any one except himself and marries Angel for her money while carrying on affairs with other women. After decades of writing and after her husband’s death, her popularity fades and she falls on hard times financially. She dies in her decaying mansion “Paradise” which was the catalyst for her imagination and writing in the first place.

The book is full of irony and has an undercurrent of humor that is continuous throughout most of the book, though less present in the latter part.  It is these two elements which really made reading this book so enjoyable for me.  The story touches on themes of loyalty, good versus bad art,  pandering to the public versus striking ones own course, and most of all perhaps, objective reality verses fantasy. It is a fairly sympathetic view of a popular best-selling literary hack, by a considerably more talented and underappreciated author, and therein lies the final irony.

This story was adapted into a movie in 2007 by Francois Ozon and is available at the San Francisco public library on DVD.  The movie has minor plot alterations and doesn’t convey the humor in the book. Romola Garai carries it well as Angel and the film is visually rich. Below is the trailer:

Bill Sargeant