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Learning to See by Elise Hooper

Learning to See

by Elise Hooper

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This work of historical fiction is not so much about Dorothea Lange's work as an artist -her aesthetic- but her life as a woman raising children while being the primary bread winner before and during the Depression, and the difficulties that continued throughout her life as a photographer, wife and mother. It illustrates how challenging it was for women to work and raise children during the earlier part of the 19th century and the obstacles they faced. Despite a woman's position or pay the primary childrearing responsibilities was left to the female. While not a new concept it continues to be a relevant issue, especially in today's social and political climate. As one reads this book one is reminded that, while a great deal has improved, there is still much to be done regarding the rights and expectations of women, both culturally and economically. A well-thought-out novel. ( )
  BALE | Jan 19, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I remember years ago seeing Dorothea Lange's famous photograph Migrant Mother.


It always brought wonder to me, seeing this image of a woman sitting with her children, hand to her face, looking forlorn, world-weary, bedraggled. I'd not heard much about the photographer until recently.

Learning to See is Elise Hooper's fictionalized account of Dorothea Lange's life, though it seems more like an actual biography. She based her story on documents, diaries, and documentaries. Some of the details were undoubtedly changed, but that is often the case with memoirs and biographies.

Dorothea Lange was an interesting person to write about. She was a woman ahead of her time, who ventured out in a field dominated by men. As a young woman in her early twenties, she traveled with a friend to San Fransisco, only to find herself stranded without money or family , and made a way for herself. She opened her own portrait studio. She married twice, had two children, and traveled to different areas to capture photos of people. Lange wanted above all to expose truth. She saw herself as an activist-Her photos were her way of showing what was really going on in the far corners of the world. And so she snapped candids of migrants, of Japanese families in internment camps, of soldiers, children.

Hooper does a great job of telling Lange's story. It's almost as if she interviewed Lange herself. I liked the way Hooper included imagined dialogues, between Lange and her husband, her friends and her sons. She doesn't insert any moral judgments either.

At the end of this particular edition, an ARC, there is an afterword which summarizes briefly the end of Lange's life. There is also an interview with Hooper, a note on her sources, a reading group guide and some of Lange's photos.

Delightful read. I'm curious to learn more about this remarkable woman and her art. ( )
  homeschoolmimzi | Jan 14, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. I am looking forward to reading more about Dorothea Lange. It is apparent the author did a lot of research for this book. The people, the settings, the atmosphere, all came together. It was interesting watching history unfold through Dorothea's life. The photographs at the end of the book helped enhance the experience. ( )
  bnbookgirl | Jan 12, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Born in 1895, Dorothea Lange was one of the most influential photographers of 20th century America. In an era long before cell phones, her iconic documentary photos of displaced farm families aroused the consciousness for social justice more than any statistical report could do. While she is best known for her photographs of migrant farm workers and their families, she also photographed Japanese Americans who were interred in the western United States during World War II. Most of these pictures were impounded during the war, only to be made public 40 years after her death in 1965.
Learning to See is a biographical novel about Lange, written by Elise Hooper. Because it is written in the first person, it reads like a memoir and so allows us to feel close to Lange with all her “life’s joys and sufferings,” to “finding connection through creativity.” (p. 359)
The themes in the novel are those of Lange’s struggles. Living with a disability, coping with parental desertion, conflicts of career and motherhood, stresses that financial troubles can put on a marriage: all as timely today as they were 90 years ago.
Published through William Morrow, the book includes a note on sources, a conversation with Elise Hooper, a reading group guide, and a few photos by Dorothea Lange. The title, Learning to See, can refer to both Lange herself, as she grows into her professional career, as well as the reader recognizing the elements of Lange’s identity in her photography. Her iconic photograph of Migrant Mother, for example, tells us almost as much about Lange as it does her subject.
Many of Lange’s photos can be found on the Internet through the National Archives at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/10582293. I was lucky to receive this book through the Early Reviewer program, and recommend it highly, especially for book clubs, but also for people who want to read engaging novels about courageous and inspiring women. ( )
  lansum | Jan 10, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This review is based on an advanced reader's edition which I received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Learning to See is a fictional account of the life to Dorothea Lange, the photographer probably most famous for her photo known Migrant Mother. Ms. Lange's life was one of hardship; she had polio at the age of seven, which left her with a withered leg and foot. She limped for the rest of her life. In addition to her handicap, Ms. Lange struggled with being a professional photographer during the Depression years, including living in poverty, and being a mother. The subtitle of the book, "the woman who revealed the real America", refers to Ms. Lange's photographing the poor who were invisible in the eyes of government. Ms. Lange didn't just photograph the migrants to California including the Oakies from the midwest, but later portrayed the Americans of Japanese descent who were relocated and forced to live in concentration camps during World War II. Ms. Lange tried to make a difference.

However, Ms. Lange felt forced to send her two sons to live in other families during much of her career during the Depression. She was married twice, first to the artist Maynard Dixon and later to economist Paul S. Taylor with whom she collaborated on a book. In both marriages, the couples needed the money earned by both husband and wife to live. When the children were with the parents, both husbands expected Ms. Lange to do the bulk of the childcare. Don, the older Dixon son, created numerous problems as a teenager; Ms. Lange tried to have a positive relationship with him, but failed.

Ms. Hooper occasionally jumps from the story she is telling to Ms. Hooper's dealing with her son, Don, many years later in the 1960s. Some of these later episodes occur even before we learn the source of the problem -- the sending of the boys away and later their parents' divorce. This felt awkward; I would have preferred not to have had the story interrupted.

As I was reading the book, several times I wanted to see the photographs being discussed. I didn't realize until I finished the book that there were small pictures of a relatively few photographs at the end of the book.

Recommended. ( )
  sallylou61 | Jan 9, 2019 |
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