Advice from a photographer on getting lost

Craft books are full of advice on how to do it. Writers try all kinds of new ways to do it. Hemmingway was infamous for getting drunk to do it, reportedly saying, “Write drunk, edit sober.”

Most of us struggle with it. How to find your way inside what you are writing, rather than standing outside of it. And oh, the joy of that translucent space when you find yourself, one foot in the real world, one foot in your imaginary or researched world.

I just came across this great quote by Dorothea Lange, who made the well-known Migrant Mother photo which became the icon of the Great Depression. “I’m trying to get lost again,” she said, speaking to an interviewer about taking her camera out into the field.

I didn’t know photographers needed to get lost inside their work like we do. But that’s exactly how Dorothea Lange took Migrant Mother. She was at the end of a month-long trip photographing in California. She saw a small, handmade sign: Pea Picker’s Camp. She drove past. But she’d photographed the pea picker’s camps the year before. She knew the destitution, the difficult conditions. Miles later she swung around, drove back to the camp, took six shots of Florence Thompson and her children, then packed up her camera and headed home again.

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I especially like this image. The photo is on the original gray cardboard it was pasted onto decades ago at the Library of Congress.

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