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Dorothea Lange: Photographing America

August 15, 2014 | By NEH Staff

The new NEH-supported documentary Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning examines the life and work of the acclaimed American photographer.

Lange is best known today for The Migrant Mother, one of many powerful pictures that she took while working for the federal Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the Great Depression. Grab a Hunk of Lighting explores this FSA work while also chronicling lesser-known aspects of Lange’s life, including her early career in San Francisco, her first marriage to painter Maynard Nixon, and  her later collaboration with labor economist Paul Shuster Taylor, her second husband. 

Dyanna Taylor, the granddaughter of Lange and Paul Shuster Taylor, directed and narrates Grab a Hunk of Lightning. An award-winning cinematographer with credits on several NEH-funded projects, Taylor starts Grab a Hunk of Lightning with a story about how her grandmother taught her to “see” the world through the eyes of an artist.  However, the director is not a central character in the documentary.  Instead, Taylor focuses on Lange, presenting a perceptive and candid portrait of the photographer’s art and significance in American culture.  Grab a Hunk of Lightning features interviews with several scholars, including Linda Gordon (New York University) and Sally Stein (University of California at Irvine), as well as family members and friends of Lange.  It also incorporates rare archival footage, photographs, and intimate film of Lange at work and relaxing at home.     

The two-hour documentary premiers on PBS’s American Masters series on August 29. Please check local listings for broadcast time.

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning is a co-production of Raven Rouge, Inc., Katahdin Productions and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s American Masters for WNET.