In Focus: The Portrait (January 27 to June 14, 2009)
- The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), January 27 to June 14, 2009
Not currently on view
A Young Girl in Ennis, Ireland
Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 - 1965)
Ennis, Ireland (Place Depicted)
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 22.4 cm (9 1/2 × 8 13/16 in.)
© Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland
The Harvard anthropologist Conrad M. Arensberg collected six lectures in a 1937 book under the title The Irish Countryman. The book is devoted primarily to the observation of the traditional upbringing and adult roles of the Irish male. According to old customs, Arensberg explains, the Irish boy is not accepted as an adult until he marries and inherits the family farm. He is an apprentice to his stern father up to the point that he becomes a husband, farmer, and father himself. The girls in the farm families of the west-country village he studied were taught to be silent children, competent housekeepers, and good mothers.Judith Keller, Dorothea Lange, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), p. 72. © 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust.
The four aspects of Ireland that interested Arensberg, the anthropologist, probably motivated Dorothea Lange, the longtime observer of human behavior, to propose the photographic project to Life as something the public would enjoy. It was first of all an ancient land that possessed the remains of the Celtic world and continued to practice old ways. It was known as the "land of the devout," with religious belief an important part of daily existence. It was also a place where life was hard, arduous work was necessary, and bleak realities had to be faced. This aspect, in combination with the wit and good nature that existed in spite of it, may have been what inspired Lange's best pictures and made her time there satisfying.
During her two months in Ireland, Lange photographed in Ennis, the seat of County Clare, as well as in the countryside. This local schoolchild, an intense young woman, seems to be looking into her own future while the artist makes her portrait. It's hard to know whether the girl sees something more than making a good marital match. A 2001 documentary titled Photos to Send retraced Lange's travels through Ireland and updated the stories of many of her subjects.
Keller, Judith. Dorothea Lange. In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), p.73.