Day Sleeper by Dorthea Lange/Sam Contis

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A retrospective of Dorothea Lange’s photography is currently on exhibit at the MOMA, although, sadly, the museum is still closed due to COVID 19. You can visit the MOMA to learn more about Lange and view photographs from the exhibit online at  https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/5079.  “Migrant Mother,” an iconic image of the Great Depression, is one of Lange’s best known works.

Sam Contis, who discovered an affinity for Lange’s work early on in her studies, more recently began exploring Lange’s archive in Oakland, CA, where Contis lives.  The archive includes 25,000 negatives, 6,000 vintage prints, field notes, and personal memorabilia. In pouring over this rich source material, Contis discovered another side of the artist that inspired her to begin a project that resulted in her book Day Sleeper.  Day Sleeper is a collection of Lange’s photographs that are very different from Lange’s work as a photojournalist. There is little text in the book which is included at the end—a short essay by Contis and a few footnotes referencing particular photographs.  The viewer is drawn into each photograph and invited to experience it on his or her own terms.  There is the possibility of a very deep connection with Lange and her work.  Out of Contis’ conversations about her work with the curator of the MOMA exhibition, Sarah Meister, selected photograph’s from Day Sleeper were made part of the MOMA exhibit.

Sam Contis’ own book of photograph’s, Deep Springs,  is also well worth exploring.  Her photographs can also be found online, and there is a very interesting interview with Contis talking about Day Sleeper at https://mackbooks.co.uk/products/day-sleeper-dorothea-lange-sam-contis-ed.  For those of you who read Ocean Vuong’s book, On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous, you saw one of Sam Contis’ photographs from her book Deep Springs;  it was used as the cover of the novel.

I’ll close with a quote from Dorothea Lange, “That the familiar world is often unsatisfactory cannot be denied, but it is not, for all that, one that we need abandon,” she argued. “We need not be seduced into evasion of it any more than we need be appalled by it into silence.… Bad as it is, the world is potentially full of good photographs. But to be good, photographs have to be full of the world.”

4 comments on “Day Sleeper by Dorthea Lange/Sam Contis”

  1. I have always admired Lange’s work and really enjoyed “walking through” this retrospective of her work this morning. She was a photographer of great depth and a master technician. Lange pointed her camera at a wide range of subjects and what she showed us was the whole world, as see with her compassionate heart. And make no mistake, she was a giant in her field. She produced work of both social relevance and technical grace.

    What a gift for Sam Contis to be able to spend time in her archives! It looks as though the book that emerged from this experience shows an aspect of Lange’s work that isn’t often seen or thought of and I would love to spend with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think I mentioned earlier that Sam is my dear friend’s daughter. When she graduated from high school, she knew that she wanted to be an artist/photographer. I gave her a tiny silver charm of a camera. It’s thrilling to see her dreams realized. Day Sleeper certainly turned me into a big fan of Dorothea Lang’s. Sam’s own book, Deep Spring, is also visually engaging on so many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

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