The Barbican is having a massive Dorothea Lange retrospective, naturally, we had to go.
We took the train from Blackheath to London Bridge, which takes about twenty minutes, so we could pop into Borough Market for bread on the way. D is really enjoying being able to have good bread every day here, and we were about to run out, which would be unthinkable (we’re planning to take lots of it home (to freeze), in order to extend the joy). From there we jumped on a tube to Moorgate (two stops on the Northern Line) and stumbled around with a map until we found the Brutalist masterpiece.
In my twenties the Barbican was one of my favourite places to haunt. It’s huge, has tons going on at all times, and most of it’s free (it may well have all been free in those early days); I could have found my way there in a coma. But, flip, the area has changed; I remember being able to see it from all around, it sang, now it’s suffocated by skyscrapers. Progress, I guess; there are few views in London now, from street level, some parts could turn an agoraphobe into a claustrophobe.
The exhibition space was enormous, loads of separate rooms: we actually had to stop to go and get something to eat before we got to the last three, and return to them once we’d rested. I had no idea of the size of Lange’s body of work. We all know about the Depression era stuff, but she did so much more. From society portraits in the 20s, to the peasants of County Clare in the (I think) 60s. I had several favourites, but can’t, I’m afraid, remember any of them. I do remember one of the most exciting things: a handwritten letter to Lange from John Steinbeck, who obviously thought very highly of her.
This is just one of at least six rooms full of her work.
Apart from the images themselves, I really enjoyed some of the inscriptions. Such things as:
‘We’re getting along as good as us draggin along people can expect –– if you can call it a living.’ And:
‘How can we go when we ain’t got no place to go’
Both from subjects in her images; and from her and Paul S Taylor, who she worked with in the Depression, on the subject of one of her images:
‘Tractors replace not only mules but people. They cultivate to the very doors of the houses of those whom they replace.’
If you’re in London before 2 September I recommend you go.
Header image: the Lakeside Picnic Garden, where we stopped for a drink – gin and tonic for me, beer for D.