Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Dorothea Lange, Self-Portrait, 1935. “Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning” premieres 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31.

“Sometimes you annihilate yourself. That is something one needs to be able to do” – Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was no stranger to losing herself in the lives of others. Her photographs capture intimate moments that would otherwise have gone unnoticed had she not set out to document the undocumented.

New Jersey-born Lange documented nationwide struggles, but she also experienced her fair share of setbacks. Her father abandoned the family when she was a child, prompting her to change her surname from Nutzhorn to Lange, her mother’s maiden name, at the age of 12. At the age of 7, Lange contracted polio that left her with a limp, a vestige that she was all too aware of throughout her life. “It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” Lange said of her altered gait. “I’ve never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it.”

Lange’s best-known photo was taken during the Great Depression, when Lange visited a camp for seasonal agricultural workers located north of Los Angeles, California.  ”Migrant Mother” is a striking still of a 32-year-old mother, flanked by her children. Her facial expression conveys the pain of poverty. The Library of Congress states that it is just one of a series of photographs Lange took of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936.

“Migrant Mother,” Dorothea Lange.

According to Lange, when the photo was taken, the mother had just sold the tires off of her car, and her family was surviving on scavenged vegetables and small birds killed by her children. After “Migrant Mother” was published in a San Francisco paper, the government rushed to provide aid to the camp to prevent starvation.

This image is just one example of how, by essentially losing herself to see the world through other’s eyes, Lange was able to take photos that actually impacted the course of her subject’s lives. In 1960, when reflecting on her visit to the impoverished encampment, Lange said of Thompson “[she] seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.”

Despite the obvious power of “Migrant Mother,” Lange’s work and life produced much more than one stunning image. American Masters’ Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning illuminates the life of the talented photographer and tells the complete story of the woman behind the camera. Tune in for a glimpse into what inspired Lange to document life, not as she saw it, but as others lived it.

“Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning” premieres 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31. View the full film online now

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Watch Tribal Histories On Air and Online

In August, Wisconsin Public Television premiered the first three parts of the Tribal Histories project, which over the next two years will share the history and traditions of all of our state’s Native American tribes and sovereign nations.

Recorded in the beautiful natural settings of the regions that native people have called home for centuries, the programs feature rich retellings of the challenges, triumphs and time-honored traditions that have shaped their vibrant communities across generations.

In the first three programs, tribal members share their nation’s oral traditions with David Grignon from the Menominee Nation, Randy Cornelius from the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin (pictured above) and Jim Thunder and Mike Alloway Sr. from the Forest County Potawatomi. And, you can watch all three programs online now, below.

Programs featuring the eight other sovereign nations located within Wisconsin’s modern boundaries and the Brothertown Indian Nation, whose sovereign status is no longer recognized by the federal government, will air on WPT in the next couple years.

WPT’s Tribal Histories project is part of Wisconsin’s Act 31 Initiative to provide educational material about American Indians in Wisconsin to the state’s schools of education and K-12 teachers.

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Watch Ken Burns’ visit to Letterman

“Is Peter Coyote still doing the voice of these?” David Letterman asked Ken Burns last night about his award-winning documentary films.

“Yes, he is,” Burns replied.

“I’ll do it for half the money…” Letterman offered, as the audience laughed.

That was just one of the funny – and insightful moments from Burns’ visit to the Late Show last night to talk about his new multi-night documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History – coming to Wisconsin Public Television Sept. 14. Watch the full interview, in two parts, below.

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Retiring? Place Your Bets

Watch Frontline: The Retirement Gamble tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 19) at 9 p.m. on WPT.

I feel comfortable taking some chances in life. Exploring a new country by myself? Sure. Trying a recipe that sounds utterly questionable? Sign me up. But despite my general openness to chance, I’d rather not gamble on my future retirement.

I’m 99.9 percent sure I’m not the only person who takes retirement seriously. Frontline: The Retirement Gamble first aired last year. The premiere prompted conversations about the security of our nation’s retirement structure, and many took to Twitter to voice their opinions.

Just had a chance to watch @frontlinepbs‘s #TheRetirementGamble – great exposé for the general public.
— Jeffrey Guenette (@gunetty) April 29, 2013

Not yet 30 yo but I should probably start thinking about my retirement. It doesn’t look too sunny via @frontlinepbs
— Hannah Yi (@hannahyi) May 3, 2013

Every American should watch this…The Retirement Gamble | FRONTLINE | PBS
— Keith Fitzgerald (@keithmfitz) April 21, 2013

“You put up 100% of the capital, you take 100% of the risk, and you get 30% of the return.”
— Jason Breslow (@jbrezlow) March 27, 2013

If you missed the initial broadcast, you’re in luck. Tonight at 9 p.m., the popular program returns to Wisconsin Public Television for an encore presentation – and you can watch it online now, below. If you’re interested in learning more about planning for retirement and why, according to Frontline, it’s a gamble as to whether IRAs or 401Ks will assure a safe retirement, tune in. Be sure to share your thoughts about the program with us by tweeting @wispublictv or commenting on Facebook!

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PBS Kids Fall Updates

Fall brings turning leaves, pumpkin patches and yes, more of the awesome kids programs you’ve come to expect from WPT.

The fall PBS Kids schedule, effective Sept. 1, includes a new offering: an extra half-hour of Sesame Street every weekday at 1 p.m, and weekends at 8 a.m. As Sesame Street celebrates its 45th season, this new half-hour show offers even more opportunities to learn and grow. According to PBS, the show ”will help kids learn a variety of skills, including the school readiness skills — such as impulse control and socio-emotional lessons — for which parents are increasingly seeking resources.” Each half-hour episode is a shortened version of a one-hour episode, which makes them perfect for families on the go.

For those who receive our monthly program guide, Airwaves, keep an eye out for the September issue, which features a special insert including a PBS Kids schedule for your fridge and a bookmark for the littlest viewers!

View the complete updated schedule below, and be sure to join us this fall! Watch on Wisconsin Public Television during the day and anytime at


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