Oct 20, 2022 - Sale 2618

Sale 2618 - Lot 114

Price Realized: $ 305,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 100,000 - $ 150,000
DOROTHEA LANGE (1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age 32). Silver print, the image measuring 9 5/8x7 5/8 inches (24.4x19.4 cm.), with Lange's F.S.A. credit stamp, a Farm Security Administration stamp, the typed title and date, and the RA number in pencil, on verso. 1936

Provenance: From the Collection of Romana Javitz; by descent to the Present Owner

Romana Javitz (1903-80) was curator of The New York Public Library's Picture Collection from 1928-68, where she assembled one of the most historically important and artistically significant collections of 20th-century photographs. An early champion of photography who said "great photography ranks with great art," she established personal relationships with Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine, and Berenice Abbott, encouraging artists to bring her work, which she subsequently purchased for the library.

In 1936, Javitz worked with Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration's Photographic Section to organize the files of the Resettlement Administration. She visited Washington D.C. to format the photographs into a collection, and he sent her duplicate prints of some work to ensure their preservation before it was clear that they would be preserved in D.C.

Javitz felt strongly about this material. The seminal text Words on Pictures (edited by Anthony T. Troncale) records interviews in which she discussed the body of work (the collection had, ultimately, 40,000 prints from the various photographers who worked for the F.S.A.), highlighting both the new documentary mode of image-making as well as the artistic success of the work. Javitz recalled "when the photographs came to us, they just gave us a completely new eye. It was really a third eye for all our trouble. You have no idea of what richness it meant to us. First of all, it was the first time that we had images that were clean cut. They weren't made to sell records or soap or whatnot" (p. 208). Her deep understanding of the material extended to the idea of the photo essay. "You have a sense that every picture is just like one word of a sentence," she said about Lange's work (p. 205) and describing FSA photographs generally arriving at the NYPL. Seeing just one is not enough, she argued.

"Curators of photographic collections-and I'm going to include Steichen-tried very hard to present photography as an art but actually photographs as documents is a much more exciting subject" (p. 230), Javitz said in one interview. Her strong sense of considering the image content first, created a dynamic collection of images in which the idea of hierarchies and isolation were simply not applicable.