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The White Angel Breadline
Lange was compelled to take her camera into the White Angel Jungle. Her brother went along for security and encouragement on her first visit, when this photograph was taken. A makeshift enclosure is crowded with men queuing for food. One older man in a stained hat is turned in the opposite direction to the rest. He is unshaven and hunched over, with a tin can between his arms and his hands clasped together. His hat shields his haggard face as he leans against a railing. Isolated from the other men, but also unbearably close to them, the man appears lost in thought--or perhaps just lost. Lange's image came to represent the Great Depression: the weariness indicated by the man's posture, the emptiness of his cup, the obscuring of his individuality by the low brim of his hat, and his isolation from others on the breadline all add up to a poignant yet respectful portrait of hopelessness and despair. By focusing on this one individual rather than the crowd that surrounds him, Lange created both a collective portrait of humanity and an individual one. Her subjects had to pose, because she used a twin-lens reflex camera. Lange held this instrument at waist level, and looked down into the ground glass in the top of the camera to organize her shot. Lange tacked a print of this photograph on the wall of her studio, and the haunting image helped crystallize her notion that her photographs might persuade viewers. She thought of this work as photojournalism that also had significance as fine art.
from Acton, A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century (Notre Dame, 2019)