CHILD OF GIANTS: Lange & Dixon's Legacy

CHILD OF GIANTS is a documentary about being the child of two creative masters of the last century; photographer Dorothea Lange and painter Maynard Dixon. It is an honestly crafted work. It brings depth to the artist, honoring their work, without idolizing them. Tom Ropelewski, a screenwriter known for romantic comedies, recognized in Daniel Dixon's handling of his life with extraordinary parents a really good story. Daniel, an advertising copy writer, had a way of telling stories that translated tragedy into "matter of fact" and sometimes humor. Daniel's is the main narrative voice in the story. His perspectives are augmented by his brother's, other family members' and his parent's art. The oldest child often has more understanding of their parents, in hind sight, than others. It is not easy to be the offspring of people whose destiny is to change the way we see the world. Often the parents don't know what their destiny is; they just do what they do with passion, while walking a tight rope over an ocean of uncharted waters.

Dorothea Lange was some twenty years younger than her husband Dixon. Her early experience with her own parents’ marriage hadn't left her a big fan of convention. She was a feminist before the word was coined. Like her contemporary visual artist women colleagues, Freda Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefe she was a force to be reckoned with. Also, like them, her partners of necessity had to revel in the uniqueness of her creative character and be unintimidated by it. Maynard Dixon was not the hand maiden husband to the great genius of Dorothea Lange. She was his equal. Neither sacrificed much for the other's career; the children suffered for both.

Among the greatest challenges in raising children with an understanding of oppression is insuring they do not become victims of it. There are critical points in children's lives were they need to be secure, that they are the center of the universe. But when your mother is busy advancing a new art form which has the power to document a call for justice in a turbulent time of history, it's pretty clear you are not the center of the universe. When your father disappears for months at a time to paint the vanishing indigenous peoples and lands of the south west, it's rather like telling children there is no Santa Claus at the wrong point in their development.

Dorothea watched the great depression unfold from the window of her studio in San Francisco. When given the opportunity to use her skill to express something of meaning about the depression she did so with singular elegance, creating icons which changed policy and arguably ushered in the error of the concerned photographer. During the internment of Japanese Americans she used the camera again as an organ of human consciousness, creating enduring images of strength and shame.

In medicine we know how you describe a problem affects how you handle the problem. As in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, what you call a thing determines how you respond to it. If it is seen as a narrow outbreak or an isolated economic depression in rural areas -- government has little need to intervene. A whiny baby gets Tylenol and is sent home; an inconsolable febrile child gets a lumbar puncture and admitted. When evidence of wide scale suffering and despair is undeniably documented as in Dorothea's photographs of the depression, the narrative cannot be ignored.

Modern medical ethics is usually taught by the principle based method. In this method one learns to analyze the tension between major ethical principles, particularly beneficence, autonomy, and justice. An alternative to principal based moral reasoning is casuistry. Casuistry uses cases or stories to enhance moral reasoning. The density of visual works of Lange and M. Dixon in the film demonstrate how their visual narrative was able to bring otherwise distant stories to the eye line of masses of Americans. This proximity of visual narrative affected moral reasoning around social policy. Dorothea found greater meaning in her work than in her marriage. The marriage broke up at a time when people were rarely divorced. The Dixon boys were destabilized once again.

In general, all children have a problem forgiving parents for destroying the family romance; children of giants or not. Forgiveness begins to happen when you are a parent yourself. Child of Giants is a story of how Daniel and John were both damaged and nourished by the eccentricities and strengths of their parents, and then forgave them their humanity. It is said that the developmental tasks of life's end include communicating to those whom you love some specifics. Daniel Dixon died before seeing the final cut of CHILD OF GIANTS. However, it seems that in the process of making the film, Daniel's final developmental tasks were achieved. It is our good fortune that filmmaker Tom Ropeleski had the good sense and skill to create this documentary. After all, the legacy of a great artist should be that they inspire more great artists.

CHILD OF GIANTS. DVD. Directed by Tom Ropeleski. USA. 2010.