A 1930 photo by Dorothea Lange depicts Ellen Anne Chong’s mother, Mary Louise Lovett, playing in Soquel Creek.
Family photographs—we all have them tucked away in shoeboxes, albums and drawers. Chances are, however, that your old family photos are not like Ellen Anne Chong’s. That’s because Chong’s family was captured on film by one of the most famous American photographers of the 20th century: Dorothea Lange. After 30 years of storage in a closet safe, these snapshots are being shared with the public, thanks to Chong’s generosity and an exhibition, Dorothea Lange: The Louise Lovett Collection, that runs Jan. 29 to April 9 at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame.
The story begins when Lange, a primarily self-taught artist who would go on to become world-renowned for her documentary photography, opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in 1918. Over the next 16 years, she gained a reputation as photographer for the city’s most powerful families. During the early 1920s, Chong’s grandmother, Louise Lovett, walked into Lange’s studio to sit for a portrait. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship that involved not only the two women, but their families as well. Chong remembers growing up with Lange’s photography on the walls and says that her grandmother owned more than 40 signed prints by the artist. Half of them were donated to the Oakland Museum; the other half came to Chong, who is sharing them now for the first time, in order to bring attention to the Peninsula Museum of Art. Chong is a working artist and also volunteers at the museum.
Although the 23 prints that will be on view, all of which were taken at the Lovetts’ family farm near Santa Cruz, are candid scenes of happy times—unlike Lange’s most famous work, the poignant “Migrant Mother” (1936)—Chong feels that the viewer can see the photographer’s signature technique. “The style is unmistakable,” says Chong. “I kept them because what else do you do with such a treasure?” 1777 California Drive, Burlingame, 650.692.2101
Originally published in the January issue of Silicon Valley