Dorothea Lange: “Politics of Seeing”

Dorothea Lange: “Politics of Seeing”
Oakland Museum of California,
May 13, 2017–August 27, 2017

Kaiser, Dorthea Lange

photo by Dorthea Lange

Review by Lincoln Cushing

Though she was female and politically on the left, Dorothea Lange was recognized early as an essential image-maker of the Great Depression and U.S. World War II home front. Her work has come to represent an entire slice of history.

Her personal journey into that role, and the ways she navigated her medium as an artist while employed by government agencies, are themes in “Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing,” an exhibit drawn from Lange’s archives at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). The archives, which were a gift from the artist, include 25,000 negatives, 6,000 vintage prints, field notes, and personal memorabilia.

“Politics of Seeing” explains Lange’s commitment to documentation, an approach that confirmed the authenticity of her work and also elevated her art as historic record. Lange not only captured individual faces of participants in America’s turbulent history, she helped preserve their names as well. She kept meticulous notes on her shoots, and these are part of the robust catalog records of her work. Curator Drew Johnson explains how her artistic process evolved in this interview.

However, no one’s records are perfect, and it is evident some of her notes were made after the fact. One of the great photos displayed in huge format is “Shift Change 3:30 PM – Coming on of Yard 3 – Kaiser Shipyards | Kaiser Shipyard – Shift Change 3:30 PM” dated “circa 1942.” (Shown above.) It’s a visual testament to inclusivity on the WWII home front, prominently showing black and women workers in a bustling new industry. But as a historian of Henry J. Kaiser and his industries, I instantly recognized that the date and location were not correct. The photo was taken at Kaiser Richmond Shipyard #2, and it must have been later than 1942, since the first ship wasn’t launched from Yard #3 until August 1943. This is not meant to detract from her work, simply to point out it takes a village to accurately encode our history.

One feature of Lange’s work that resonates with current politics is the nature of government support for cultural workers. Most of the photos in the OMCA exhibit were made while she was employed by agencies such as the Farm Security Administration, which morphed into the Office of War Information. (Her 1936 “Migrant Mother” heads the Library of Congress’ site page on this remarkable body of work.) These jobs were not easy, and the OMCA exhibition reveals some of the inside fights over representation. But at this point in history it’s almost unfathomable to look back and realize that tax dollars were used to hire women like Lange or photographers of color like E. F. Joseph. Revealing that stolen history is the heavy lifting being done by the Living New Deal Project.

OMCA astutely included three contemporary photographers in this exhibition – Janet DelaneyJason Jaacks, and Ken Light, drawing the photodocumentarian story arc to the present.

Two of the same artists are part of an exhibition at the Berkeley Art Center, “Resistors: 50 Years of Social Movement Photography” showing through August 20. Ken Light, with his wife and collaborator Melanie Light, curated the show, andJanet Delaney is one of the dozens of photographers.

This is a wonderfully rich and moving exhibition, which works on many levels.

Among many other reviews:

Berkeleyside, “A must see: Dorothea Lange’s remarkable photographs at OMCA“
KQED magazine, “Once-Suppressed Dorothea Lange Photos Capture Wartime Paranoia”

2,265 Rosies rocked Richmond

RosieEvent-medToday 2,265 people (yes, men were allowed!) dressed as the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” gathered in the giant Ford Assembly building craneway to beat the current Guinness world record for such an event. More than a gimmick, it was a testament to the impact of the World War II Home Front, and honored the women who participated in the war effort.

During WWII the Ford plant was surrounded by four Kaiser shipyards, which produced 747 ships to help win the war. The social programs that accompanied the war effort – such as efforts to integrate housing, provision of quality child care, acceptance of women in the industrial workforce, opportunities for women and people of color in trade unions, and the Kaiser health plan – were precursors of many subsequent social justice efforts, including the civil rights movement and second wave feminism.

The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond is the only National Park to cover this important period in national (and California) history. It’s well worth a visit.

-Lincoln Cushing, CSA

UCB California Studies Dinner Seminar, Tuesday, September 16, 2014: Lincoln Cushing “Red All Over: Political and Countercultural Printshops of the San Francisco Bay Area”

The first dinner seminar of the 2014-2015 academic year will feature Lincoln Cushing, author, archivist, and activist speaking on socially conscious printshops in the Bay Area. Author of a book on social justice posters in the region, Cushing will discuss the shops that produced these powerful works of art. The session is from 7-9 p.m. at the UC Berkeley Institute for Labor Research and Education, 2521 Channing Way, just east of Telegraph Ave.
Free admission and dinner.
Contact Myra Armstrong,, 510-643-3012.

Pop-up Talk: Lincoln Cushing on Radical Acts

Lincoln, one of our CSA steerers, gives a pop-up talk at OMCA. | Friday, August 15, 2014, 7–7:30 pm | Details:

radical-acts-1 Join archivist and author Lincoln Cushing for a brief talk in the newly reinstalled “Radical Acts” section within the Gallery of California Art. Cushing will discuss the postwar rise of social justice movements and related posters in the “All of Us Or None Archive,” a large set of political posters within the Museum’s collection. The Bay Area was a powerful node of production for these “paper bullets,” and Cushing will reveal the many layers of meaning in the posters on display. This in-Gallery pop-up talk takes place during Friday Nights @ OMCA, featuring half-off Gallery admission, Off the Grid food trucks, live music, and more.

Included with Museum admission. During Friday Nights @ OMCA, from 5 to 9 pm, admission is half-price for adults, free for ages 18 and under. Admission for Members is always free.

Political and Countercultural Printshops of the S.F. Bay Area – Slide lecture April 3

Join archivist, author, and art historian Lincoln Cushing at the San Francisco Public Library for an exciting slide lecture

“Red All Over: Political and Countercultural Printshops of the S.F. Bay Area.”

Every movement needs a voice, and ever since Gutenberg systematized the concept of movable type radicals have put ink to paper to create multiples of inflammatory documents. Come and learn more about the discontents, troublemakers, poets, organizers, and visionaries who set up shop in the S.F. Bay Area from the 1960s to present. Presented by the Marjorie G. and Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center of the San Francisco Public Library and the American Printing History Association’s NorCal Chapter.

Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:00-8:00 PM; all programs free.
Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch
100 Larkin Street (at Grove) (415) 557-4277,

For a directory of these hotbeds of democratic dissent click here.
Short link to this page:

Pete Seeger – the California connection


Pete Seeger and Grupo Raiz, benefit concert for La Pena Cultural Center, Berkeley, 1982. Poster by Lincoln Cushing. Click on the image to see more at OMCA.

Pete Seeger died January 27 at the earned age of 94. He was the banjo-toting bard for several generations of social justice activists, encouraging people to do what they could to make the world a better place. He was truly inspirational, and visual evidence of his rich trail can be seen in the posters made for his concerts and other musical performances. The Oakland Museum of California is cataloging a huge trove of political posters, and of course, many bear the name of Pete Seeger. These posters span the years 1967 to 1990, and show some of the many issues he supported.

There are many California connections. A 1967 poster was for a benefit concert supporting an antiwar campaign at Port Chicago; the event was produced by African American cultural organizer Mary Ann Pollar, a seminal figure in the early Berkeley folk music scene. And Seeger’s father, Charles Seeger, taught music at the University of California, Berkeley from 1912 to 1916 when he was dismissed for his antiwar beliefs. The apple did not fall far that tree. [LMC]

Oppositional print shops of the SF Bay Area

During the 1960s there was a powerful confluence of movements, and much of that vibrance has been missed in current histories. I’ve been researching the swath of print shops that in the terminology of today’s post-Occupy world would be called the media outlets of the 99%. These were run by poets, communists, black nationalists, Vietnam veterans, Raza activists, pot smokers, free speechers and liberated women, all struggling to get their message out. My most recent listing is a local shop I’d never heard of, Noh Directions Press. My curiosity was aroused when I noticed their logo on a poster I’m cataloging for the Oakland Museum of California.

I love a challenge, and after email queries, phone calls, institutional researching, false leads, and lots of editorial back-and-forth I drew out a description and a stunning photo. This is the kind of documentation of our own history we have to do before it’s too late to get it right, or someone else will get it wrong.

-Lincoln Cushing

Strikes, smog, and steel – Fontana, 1972

I have an interesting job – I’m an archivist who gets to write history for a national health care organization. Here is a story I recently put up on our blog that looks at the intersection of corporate public relations and public health. Sometimes (Hell, usually) history is complicated.

“Can heavy industry be a good neighbor? That was one of the challenges facing the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, California, in 1972.” Read more here.

Lincoln Cushing
Digital Archivist
Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources

“Aerial photographs during the strike” Kaiser Steel, Fontana 1972

Radical Archiving and Cataloging as Social History

Radical Archiving and Cataloging as Social History
Shaping San Francisco presentation
518 Valencia Street, SF
Wed. Sept. 25, 2013, 7:30 pm

What role do nontraditional archives play in the preservation and interpretation of peoples’ history? This open discussion will explore some of the opportunities and challenges of radical repositories. Some of the issues that will be addressed include:

• What defines a radical archive?
• What can be productive relations between community-based or independent archives and more established (and establishment) institutions?
• What tools and processes are making it easier to document, catalog, and share oppositional cultural objects?
• What is the role of ordinary people in building useful collections?

Lincoln Cushing is a professional archivist responsible for Docs Populi – Documents for the Public, documenting and disseminating social justice poster art. He is also archiving consultant with the Oakland Museum of California helping to process the All Of Us Or None poster collection.
Claude Marks is the Director of The Freedom Archives, a political, cultural oral history project, restoration center, and media production facility in San Francisco.
Nathaniel Moore is an archivist at the Freedom Archives. He has a MA in African Studies and a MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois.

Web resource on Berkeley historical landmarks and subjects

The Berkeley Historical Plaque Project has produced over 100 actual and virtual markers of this city’s rich culture. It’s a great example of using the Web to share history and geographical content. Subjects include a huge range –  fitness guru Jack Lalanne, film critic Pauline Kael, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and environmentalist David Brower.
My own contribution was an illustrated essay on
Sidewalk Contractor Stamps. [LMC]

Slideshow lecture on the history of Bay Area social justice posters

Nicaragua: A Revolution to Defend

Join me (Lincoln Cushing) Thursday, February 7th at 7PM for a rousing talk about McCarthyism, the counterculture, the New Left, and various movements of liberation in shaping the visual propaganda of the Bay Area. Marin History Museum, San Rafael. Much of the content is based on the All Of Us Or None poster collection at the Oakland Museum of California and a catalog by the same name by Heyday. There will be an admission fee.

Recent California books on community graphic art

These three titles each provide ample evidence that graphic artists of the American West, and especially the San Francisco Bay Area, have been passionate social antennae adept at revealing early on social issues that presage national and even international ones. [LMC]

Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present, by Art Hazelwood. Freedom Voices Press, 2011.

Curated and edited by Art Hazelwood, this book also serves as an illustrated catalog for a travelling exhibition. It examines social stereotypes about our populations that have fallen through the “safety net” from the Great Depression to our current Wall Street-fueled miasma. Social justice artists from the 1930s are mashed up with those of today, including Doug Minkler, Jos Sances, David Bacon, and Eric Drooker.  More than just an aesthetic examination, it explores the analyses and community-based institutions that challenge this tragic byproduct of capitalism.


Notes from a Revolution: Com/Co, The Diggers, & the Haight, by Kristine McKenna and David Hollander. Foggy Notion Books, 2012.

The Diggers were one of the legendary Bay Area countercultural institutions of the late 1960s.  They used street theater, modern communications systems (e.g., the Gestetnerduplicator), humor, poetry, and a passion for liberation to challenge the dark side of private property and corporate greed. They were outrageous, wild, and very subversive. The text includes interviews coupled with reproductions of their colorful and evocative flyers. Not indexed, but includes a helpful timeline.

Art of the Dead: A Celebration of the Artists Behind the American Rock Poster Movement, edited by Phil Cushway, 2012 (self-published)

Rather than just another rock poster book, this one explores how the dynamic evolution of a unique band – The Grateful Dead – spurred artists to push technological limits and breed a distinct graphic style. Cushway has done his homework and knows what he’s talking about, but he lets others tell the story. Interviews and annotations help the viewer to examine cryptic typography, layered imagery, and the magic of offset printing. Richly illustrated with beautiful reproductions of work ranging from the famous (Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin…) to the unknown. Indexed.

New Free Speech Movement photos

It’s hard to believe that history hasn’t been picked clean as years go by, but as an archivist I’m always amazed about new content that surfaces. Check out these color images taken during the confrontations at Sproul Hall in 1964, with the story of their accession. Thanks to FSM historian Barbara Stack for scanning and posting them.

“All Of Us Or None” exhibition of social justice posters

A reminder that the “All Of Us Or None” exhibition of social justice posters will be up at the Oakland Museum of California through August 19, with live screenprinting on many Saturdays.

Upcoming talks about the exhibition and accompanying catalog:

Pegasus Books, Berkeley
Thursday, July 26, 7:30

Berkeley Public Library, main branch
Sunday, August 5, 2:00

Grave Matters: Excavating California’s Buried Past

Grave Matters cover

Grave Matters: Excavating California’s Buried Past
Tony Platt, Heyday, Berkeley, 2011

This books examines the dark relationship between academic anthropologists, specifically those affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley, and the cowboy underworld of grave diggers and pot hunters. The fact that thousands of human burial sites were recklessly torn up and skeletons shipped away was bad enough, but even the noble hand of Science was not properly invoked – very few of these remains were ever analyzed. The author weaves together strong research with moving interviews and personal narrative, and examines this process through the lens of world genocides. He further explores challenges and solutions to correct the pedagogical void that persists regarding the devastating loss of life and culture.

The author was a recent guest at a CSA dinner talk; review contributed by Lincoln Cushing

Red in black and white: The New Left printing renaissance of the 1960s – and beyond

In conjunction with the PEACE PRESS GRAPHICS 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change show at the University Art Museum at CSU-Long Beach, archivist of graphics and author (and current chair of the CSA Steering Committee) Lincoln Cushing has published an essay entitled, “Red in black and white: The New Left printing renaissance of the 1960s – and beyond.” The essay appears in the catalog for the show, and is also available online.

From the essay:

The advent of relatively low-cost office spirit duplicators and mimeograph machines [4] democratized the lowest end of printing, and made it possible for unions, churches, and community groups to produce crude flyers composed on typewriters. But the trickier and larger jobs were still in the domain of professionals who had the skills and equipment. Occasionally a sympathetic shop or press operator could slip out a surreptitious tract, but for all intents and purposes public printed agitational documents like posters vanished from the landscape. It’s a remarkable fact that the Civil Rights movement and the Free Speech Movement of 1964 relied on almost every medium but posters.

What broke the ice for posters were the free handbills produced for the San Francisco rock concerts starting in 1965. All of a sudden, people realized what they didn’t know they were missing – vibrant, powerful graphics they could put on a wall. And the underground newspapers were doing crazy thing with graphics. Cultural forces preceded political ones, which interestingly was happening about the same time in Cuba. The majority of posters produced by government agencies after the 1959 revolution had been relatively stiff and boring until visionary publicist Saúl Yelin at the Cuban Film Institute transformed the entire concept of a film poster. He encouraged a style where the graphic art emphasized the film’s content rather than the film’s stars, and dozens of idealistic and talented artists applied their professional skills to this new enterprise. The other Cuban propaganda agencies took note. That happened here too.

The first glimmer of the new generation of activist print shops started in 1964 in the heat of the Free Speech Movement. The Free Speech Movement Newsletter was first printed on a 14” x 20” Multilith 2066 by Duard Hastings, in the basement of a home later demolished to make People’s Park. The press was owned by Dunbar Aitken, publisher of the occasional science journal Particle, but Dunbar was evicted by his landlord for printing “communist papers,” and they briefly moved the operation to the basement of Lewin’s Metaphysical Books (Ashby and College) before settling into a propitious storefront on the 1700 block of Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr.)