A crowd of men stands waiting, tightly packed together. Most of them have their backs to the camera, but one man in the foreground, with the brim of his hat covering his eyes, is turned toward the viewer. Leaning on a wooden rail, he tensely clasps his hands and balances an empty cup between his arms on top of the fence. All of the men pictured here were standing in a breadline organized during the Depression by a wealthy San Franciscan known as the "White Angel."
Lange's friends urged her to stay away from places like this, where unemployed and desperately poor people gathered. Nonetheless, one day in 1933 she ventured out from her portrait studio and created this image of the misery and passivity endured by the unemployed who wait for food as well as for a chance to get a job. She later described the experience, which proved to be a turning point in her understanding of what she could accomplish as a photographer: "That's the first day I ever made a photograph actually on the street. I put it on the wall of my studio and customers, people whom I was making portraits of, would come in and glance at them. And the only comment I ever got was, 'What are you going to do with this kind of thing?' I didn't know. But I knew that picture was on my wall, and I knew that it was worth doing." She later said that, soon after photographing White Angel Bread Line, "I'd begun to get a much firmer grip on the things I really wanted to do in my work."