Happy birthday Dorothea Lange!

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Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist. Her most notable work came when she documented the effects of the Great Depression on sharecroppers and the exploitation of migrant laborers from 1935-1939, including the photo "Migrant Mother."

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Lange was born Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn in Hoboken, New Jersey. She dropped her middle name and adopted her mother's maiden name after her parents separated when she was twelve years old. Lange contracted polio at the age of seven and walked with a limp for the rest of her life.

Lange studied photography at Columbia University and then went on to apprentice with some of New York's most prestigious photographers, including Arnold Genthe.

She married Maynard Dixon and settled in San Francisco, opening up a portrait photography studio and having two children. But after traveling around the Southwest with her husband in the 1920s and taking photos of Native Americans, her interest in documentary photography grew. She began photographing what became the images of the Great Depression, bread lines and labor strikes.

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In 1935, she left her husband for economist Paul Taylor. She became employed by the Farm Security Administration, and she and Taylor traveled around the midwest for the next five years, with Lange photographing and Taylor collecting data about the exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant laborers. Included in the collection of photos from this period was "Migrant Mother," taken by Lange in 1936. The photo, featuring migrant laborer Florence Owens Thompson, would go on to become her most famous work.

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Lange's 1936, 'Migrant Mother,' Florence Owens Thompson

Lange said the following about her experience taking the photo:

"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."

In 1941, Lange won the Guggenheim Fellowship for excellence in photography, becoming the first woman to receive the award.

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Migrant children playing at nursery school, FSA camp, Tulare County, California, 1939

 

After World War II had begun, Lange was hired by the Office of War Information to photograph Japanese internment. Her images were so critical of the operations that they were impounded by the Army. She was later hired to document the creation of the United Nations.

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First-graders, some of Japanese ancestry, at the Weill public school, San Francisco, Calif., pledging allegiance to the United States flag. The evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War relocation authority centers for the duration of the war

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Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Grandfather and grandson of Japanese ancestry at this War Relocation Authority center.

In 1952, she founded the photographic magazine Aperture.

She spent the last two decades of her life taking on assignments for Life Magazine, traveling through Utah, Ireland, and Death Valley. She also photographed what she saw while accompanying her husband on work-related trips to Korea, Pakistan, and Vietnam.

Lange died of esophageal cancer in 1965.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Monday, 26 May 2014
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