White Angel Breadline / Lange
© Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland
White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco
Dorothea Lange
American, about 1933, print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 9/16 in.
Questions for Teaching

• What is going on in this picture?

• How would you describe the expression on the face of the man turned toward the viewer? What might he be thinking about?

• Would the meaning of this picture change if several of the men faced toward the camera, instead of just one? Explain your answer.

• Compare the dress and expression of the man who faces the camera with the appearance of the other men in the picture. Why has Lange singled him out?

• Where do you think Lange stood to take this picture?

• Can you find any patterns or repeating motifs? How do they contribute to the photograph's meaning?

• Do you think a person needs to have personally experienced unemployment and hunger to understand this photograph?

• Who should see this photograph? Does the publication of a photo like this help the people pictured in it?

Background Information

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."