Dorothea Lange

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Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange atop automobile in California (restored).jpg
Lange in 1936
Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn

(1895-05-26)May 26, 1895
DiedOctober 11, 1965(1965-10-11) (aged 70)
Known for Documentary photography, photojournalism

Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange's photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography. [1]

Photographer person who takes photographs

A photographer is a person who makes photographs.

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late-1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

Farm Security Administration New Deal agency to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was a New Deal agency created in 1937 to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States. It succeeded the Resettlement Administration (1935–1937).


Early life

Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn was born on May 26, 1895, at 1041 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, New Jersey [2] [3] to second-generation German immigrants Heinrich Nutzhorn and Johanna Lange. [4] She had a younger brother, Martin. [4] She dropped her middle name and assumed her mother's maiden name after her father abandoned the family when she was twelve years old, one of two traumatic events early in her life. [5] The other trauma was her contraction of polio at age seven, which left her with a weakened right leg and a permanent limp. [2] [3] "It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me," Lange once said of her altered gait. "I've never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it." [6]

Hoboken, New Jersey City in Hudson County, New Jersey, U.S.

Hoboken is a city in Hudson County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population was 50,005, having grown by 11,428 (+29.6%) from 38,577 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 5,180 (+15.5%) from the 33,397 in the 1990 Census. Hoboken is part of the New York metropolitan area and is the site of Hoboken Terminal, a major transportation hub for the tri-state region.

Germans citizens or native-born people of Germany; or people of descent to the ethnic and ethnolinguistic group associated with the German language

Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe, who share a common German ancestry, culture and history. German is the shared mother tongue of a substantial majority of ethnic Germans.

Polio Infectious disease

Polio, also called poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5 percent of cases there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. This can occur over a few hours to a few days. The weakness most often involves the legs but may less commonly involve the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. Many people fully recover. In those with muscle weakness about 2 to 5 percent of children and 15 to 30 percent of adults die. Another 25 percent of people have minor symptoms such as fever and a sore throat and up to 5 percent have headache, neck stiffness and pains in the arms and legs. These people are usually back to normal within one or two weeks. In up to 70 percent of infections there are no symptoms. Years after recovery post-polio syndrome may occur, with a slow development of muscle weakness similar to that which the person had during the initial infection.


Lange graduated from the Wadleigh High School for Girls [7] , and although she had never operated or owned a camera, she was adamant that she would become a photographer upon graduating from high school. [8] Lange was educated in photography at Columbia University in New York City in a class taught by Clarence H. White. [8] She was informally apprenticed to several New York photography studios, including that of the famed Arnold Genthe. [5] In 1918, she left New York with a female friend to travel the world, but was forced to end the trip in San Francisco due to a robbery, and settled there, working as a photograph finisher at a photographic supply shop. [9] where she became acquainted with other photographers and met an investor that aided in the establishment of a successful portrait studio. [3] [5] [10] This business supported Lange and her family for the next fifteen years. [5] In 1920, she married the noted western painter Maynard Dixon, with whom she had two sons, Daniel, born in 1925, and John, born in 1930. [11]

The Wadleigh High School for Girls, which was established by the NYC Board of Education in 1897, and which moved into its new building in September 1902, was the first public high school for girls in New York City. At the time, public secondary education for girls was considered highly novel and perhaps a bit scandalous. Newspapers considered it newsworthy enough to devote many stories to describing classroom scenes of girls receiving “higher” education.

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

Arnold Genthe American photographer

Arnold Genthe was a German-born American photographer, best known for his photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and his portraits of noted people, from politicians and socialites to literary figures and entertainment celebrities.

Lange's early studio work mostly involved shooting portrait photographs of the social elite in San Francisco. [12] At the onset of the Great Depression, Lange turned her lens from the studio to the street. Her photographs during this period bear kinship with John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath . [13] Her studies of unemployed and homeless people, starting with White Angel Breadline (1933), which depicted a lone man facing away from the crowd in front of a soup kitchen run by a widow known as the White Angel, [14] captured the attention of local photographers and led to her employment with the federal Resettlement Administration (RA), later called the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

San Francisco Consolidated city-county in California, United States

San Francisco, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is the 13th-most populous city in the United States, and the fourth-most populous in California, with 884,363 residents as of 2017. It covers an area of about 46.89 square miles (121.4 km2), mostly at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it the second-most densely populated large US city, and the fifth-most densely populated U.S. county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs. San Francisco is also part of the fifth-most populous primary statistical area in the United States, the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.

John Steinbeck American writer

John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was an American author. He won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." He has been called "a giant of American letters," and many of his works are considered classics of Western literature.

<i>The Grapes of Wrath</i> novel by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Resettlement Administration

In December 1935, Lange and Dixon divorced, and she married economist Paul Schuster Taylor, Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. [11] For the next five years they documented rural poverty and the exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant laborers. Taylor interviewed subjects and gathered economic data, while Lange took photographs. Lange resided in Berkeley for the rest of her life.

Paul Schuster Taylor was a progressive agricultural economist. He was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin and earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley where he then became professor of economics from 1922, until his retirement in 1962.

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

Berkeley, California City in California, United States

Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. It is named after the 18th-century Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley. It borders the cities of Oakland and Emeryville to the south and the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington to the north. Its eastern border with Contra Costa County generally follows the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. The 2010 census recorded a population of 112,580.

Working for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration, Lange's images brought the plight of the poor and forgotten—particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers—to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the country, Lange's poignant images became icons of the era.

One of Lange's most recognized works is Migrant Mother. [15] The woman in the photograph is Florence Owens Thompson. In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience taking the photograph:

Florence Owens Thompson Native-American farm worker, subject of Dorothea Langes famous photo Migrant Mother

Florence Owens Thompson was the subject of Dorothea Lange's famous photo Migrant Mother (1936), an iconic image of the Great Depression. The Library of Congress titled the image: "Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California."

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. [16]

After Lange returned home, she told the editor of a San Francisco newspaper about conditions at the camp and provided him with two of her photographs. The editor informed federal authorities and published an article that included the images. In response, the government rushed aid to the camp to prevent starvation. [17]

According to Thompson's son, Lange got some details of this story wrong, but the impact of the picture was based on the image of the strength and need of migrant workers. [18] Twenty-two of the photographs she took as part of the FSA were included in John Steinbeck's The Harvest Gypsies when it was originally published in The San Francisco News in 1936.

Japanese American internment

Children at the Weill public school in San Francisco pledge allegiance to the American flag in April 1942, prior to the internment of Japanese Americans JapaneseAmericansChildrenPledgingAllegiance1942-2.jpg
Children at the Weill public school in San Francisco pledge allegiance to the American flag in April 1942, prior to the internment of Japanese Americans
Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Grandfather and grandson of Japanese ancestry at . . . - NARA - 537994.jpg
Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center

In 1941, Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for achievement in photography. [19] After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she gave up the prestigious fellowship to record the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA). [20] She covered the internment of Japanese Americans [21] and their subsequent incarceration, traveling throughout urban and rural California to photograph families preparing to leave, visiting several temporary assembly centers as they opened, and eventually highlighting Manzanar, the first of the permanent internment camps. Much of her work focused on the waiting and uncertainty involved in the removal: piles of luggage waiting to be sorted, families wearing identification tags while awaiting transport. [22] To many observers, her photograph [23] of Japanese American children pledging allegiance to the flag shortly before they were sent to camp is a haunting reminder of the travesty of detaining people without charging them with a crime. [24]

Her images were so obviously critical that the Army impounded most of them, and they were not seen publicly during the war. [25] [26] Today her photographs of the internment are available in the National Archives on the website of the Still Photographs Division, and at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley.

California School of Fine Arts/San Francisco Art Institute

In 1945, Ansel Adams invited Lange was to teach at the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now known as San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). Imogen Cunningham and Minor White also joined the faculty. [27]

In 1952, Lange co-founded the photography magazine Aperture . In the mid-1950s , Life magazine commissioned Lange and Pirkle Jones to shoot a documentary about the death of Monticello, California and the subsequent displacement of its residents by the damming of Putah Creek to form Lake Berryessa. Because the magazine did not run the piece, Lange devoted an entire issue of Aperture to the work. The collection was shown at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1960. [28] Another series for Life magazine, which Lange began in 1954, featured Martin Pulich, a lawyer, due to Lange's interest in how poor people were defended in the court system, which by one account grew out of her experience with her brother’s arrest and trial. [29]

Death and legacy

In the last two decades of her life, Lange's health declined. [4] She suffered from gastric problems as well as post-polio syndrome, although the reoccurrence of the pain and weakness of polio was not yet recognized by most physicians. [5]

Lange died of esophageal cancer on October 11, 1965, in San Francisco, California, at age seventy. [11] [30] She was survived by her second husband, Paul Taylor, two children, three stepchildren, [31] and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Three months later, the Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted a retrospective of her work, which Lange herself had helped to curate. [32]

In 2003, Lange was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. [33] In 2006, an elementary school was named in her honor in Nipomo, California, near the site where she had photographed Migrant Mother. [34] In 2008, she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts; her son, Daniel Dixon, accepted the honor in her place. [35] In October 2018, Lange's hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey honored her with a mural depicting Lange and two other prominent women from Hoboken's history, Maria Pepe and Dorothy McNeil. [36]

See also

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Further reading

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Dorothea Lange's Documentary Photographs, at J. Paul Getty Museum