About the book, Learning to See
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 22, 2019)
“Written with grace, empathy, and bright imagination, Learning to See gives us the vivid interior life of a remarkably resilient woman. Dorothea Lange’s story is about passion and art, love and family, but also about the sacrifices women make—and have always made—to illuminate the truth of the world.” —Danya Kukafka, national bestselling author of Girl in Snow
Learning to See is a gripping account of the Dorothea Lange, the woman behind the camera who risked everything for art, activism, and love. …
In 1918, a fearless twenty-two-year old arrives in bohemian San Francisco from the Northeast, determined to make her own way as an independent woman. Renaming herself Dorothea Lange she is soon the celebrated owner of the city’s most prestigious and stylish portrait studio and wife of the talented but volatile painter, Maynard Dixon.
By the early 1930s, as America’s economy collapses, her marriage founders and Dorothea must find ways to support her two young sons single-handedly. Determined to expose the horrific conditions of the nation’s poor, she takes to the road with her camera, creating images that inspire, reform, and define the era. And when the United States enters World War II, Dorothea chooses to confront another injustice—the incarceration of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans.
At a time when women were supposed to keep the home fires burning, Dorothea Lange, creator of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, dares to be different. But her choices came at a steep price…
Buy, read, and discuss Learning to See:
About the Author, Elise Hooper
Connect with Elise:
I come from a long line of amateur photographers, so I’ve long been familiar with the real Dorothea Lange’s work. Reading a fictionalized version of her life, then, was something I was eager to do. Having read and enjoyed author Elise Hooper’s freshman outing, The Other Alcott, I was familiar with her crisp, no-nonsense style, one that makes her extrapolations feel like proper docu-dramas. In this case, I imagined Katharine Hepburn playing the lead character, though I’m not sure why. Possibly because Lange is from the time period that lends itself to that ‘trans-Atlantic’ accent.
I immediately fell in love with both the historic San Francisco setting, and the character at the heart of the novel, the prickly, feisty, determined Lange herself. Like her, I’m a brunette, and hardly a ‘looker,’ and have had to rely on brains and talent (as we all should, really), so I empathized with her a lot. Immediately I was thankful that she was living in a time when women in trousers was finally acceptable – how much easier to hide that ‘withered right leg’ that way.
Of course, it wasn’t just Lange’s struggle to become successful as an artist that intrigued me, but also her perspective on the world. She humanized the American poor, and, equally importantly, turned her lens on our worst selves, documenting the truth of the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.
Hooper’s novel shows us this, of course, but she also lets us see Lange’s private self: the young mother struggling to raise two children in the Depression-era economy, and balancing the need to make a living with the innate requirement that she must retain her own sense of integrity, both personal and artistic.
This is a novel, not a biography, but it’s a compelling and fascinating read, and where it may err in facts, it resounds with truth.
Goes well with bacon, eggs, pancakes, and a steaming mug of black coffee.
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