WOW Review Volume XI, Issue 2, Winter 2019

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock
Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth
Written by Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Gérard DuBois
Calkins Creek, 2016, 32 pp
ISBN 978-1-62979-208-8

“This is the way it is! Look at it! Look at it!”
-Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange’s life did not start out with clues that she would become a famous photographer. Instead, she experienced trauma in her childhood that helped her notice difficulties. Her childhood story includes losing a father, being raised by a domineering mother, and a bout with polio that left her limping the rest of her life. Author Barb Rosenstock helps readers see that these early experiences gave Lange the sensitivity to quietly watch and eventually record the world that surrounds her.

As a young woman, she apprenticed with well-known photographers in New York, then moved to San Francisco where she became a sought-after portrait photographer. One day she looked out the window, noticed the bread line near-by, grabbed her camera and began recording the faces and emotions of people as they struggled to survive during the Great Depression. That was the birth of her well-known documentary photographic style that depicts actual situations of sociological or political import.

By centering the narrative of the book on Dorothea’s eyes, Rosenstock conveys the power of Lange’s photographs in which she saw and recorded the circumstantial poverty but also the human spirit of her subjects. Across the years she photographed migrant workers, sharecroppers, the jobless, the hungry, the homeless–people the world can’t see or chooses to ignore. Eventually her photographs convinced the government to provide aid. Rosenstock concludes her narrative with the observation that “Dorothea’s eyes help us see with our hearts.” Lange’s work joins with that of photographers who changed the way the world is seen (e.g. Mathew Brady, Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams).

The artwork by Gerard DuBois is rendered in acrylics. His earth-toned paintings convey the “down-to-earth” subject matter of Lange’s photographs. Close-ups keep the focus on Lange and her eyes that see a world ignored by others.

This book pairs well with other biographies of visual and musical artists by Rosenstock, including Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky (illustrated by Mary Grandpré, 2017), Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art, (illustrated by Mary Grandpré, 2018), and The Noisy Paintbox: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (illustrated by Mary Grandpré, 2014). Additional biographies for the text set might be The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, A Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art (illustrated by Claire A. Nivola, 2018) and Blue Grass Boy: the Story of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass Music (illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, 2018).

Barb Rosenstock lives in the Chicago area with her family. She worked for many years in advertising, but began writing books when she wanted to read biographies to her sons that captured their attention. She is active in schools where she does workshops on writing biographies or using art as a window into a story. She is passionate about books in the classroom, and her website includes examples of ways teachers have used her books to teach writing, history, art, etc. Her biography of Kandinsky, illustrated by Mary GrandPré, won a Caldecott Honor. Since then they have collaborated on biographies of Van Gogh and Chagall. More information on Rosenstock can be found at https://barbrosenstock.com

Gérard DuBois was born in France and studied graphic design in Paris before moving to Montreal. His work has been a finalist several times for Canada’s Governor General’s Award. He has also received a Bologna Ragazzi Special Mention. DuBois has been described as “an artist of extraordinary sensitivity born of empathy for normal lives” (Porter, n.d.) and in that sense his art reflects the photography of Lange in which she captured the heart of people experiencing tough times. More information on DuBois can be found at https://www.gdubois.com/

Porter, M. Gerard DuBois (n.d.). Communication Arts. Retrieved from https://www.commarts.com/features/g-rard-dubois

Susan Corapi, Trinity International University