Indonesia / Lange
© Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland
Dorothea Lange
American, 1958
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 13 1/4 in.
Questions for Teaching

• What can you say about the people in this photograph just by looking at their feet?

• How did Lange "frame" her picture of the children?

• Why do you think that Lange included only her subjects' feet in this picture?

• What patterns or repeating motifs can you find in this picture?

• Why do you think Lange liked to photograph feet?

• What are good subjects to photograph when you take a trip? Monuments? The people who live there? Yourself?

• Would you rather photograph people's hands, feet, or faces? Why?

• Is there a particular subject that you like to show in pictures, just as Lange liked to make pictures of feet?

Background Information

Lange took this picture of children's feet during her travels in Indonesia in 1958. She was both documenting an aspect of life in Indonesia—the custom of going barefoot—and creating an abstract and even playful composition that incorporates the strong, simple elements of feet, lines in the ground and on one foot, and a leaf at the bottom of the picture. The feet are shown as viewed from above, set against a dark background. A pleasing pattern is created by the repeated shapes of the feet and toes, set at different angles and extending into the frame of the picture by different degrees.

All varieties of legs and feet had long fascinated Lange. Among her photographs are images of a woman's legs clothed in torn stockings, a businessman's feet stepping off a streetcar, and an Egyptian youth's legs straddling his burro. She photographed her own foot as well, which was misshapen by the polio attack she suffered in her youth. Lange's self-consciousness about her foot may well have given her an especially keen awareness of other people's feet and a desire to photograph them.

Lange seemed to very much enjoy her time in Indonesia, where she visited with royalty, watched performances of classical Javanese dance, swam in the cold mountain water of jungle pools, and collected local crafts. However, she never forgot that she was a privileged American outsider. When Lange traveled to Calcutta, India, she purposely chose not to document the extreme poverty she found there. Perhaps the numerous images of feet that Lange created while in Indonesia reflect a desire to avoid depicting the harsher aspects of Indonesian life.