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Dorothea Lange Overview

born: 1895
born in: Hoboken
died: 1965
"Hands off! I do not molest what I photograph, I do not meddle, and I do not arrange." Thus Dorthea Lange, admired as one of America's most committed social photographers, stated her philosophy and her working principles. Lange began her career... [more]

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Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was an extraordinary photographer. Born in 1895, she first worked for Arnold Genthe and studied with Clarence White at Columbia University. In 1918 she started a trip around the world and got only as far as San Francisco and finding herself stranded she opened a photographic studio. She also met Paul Taylor who would become her second husband and collaborator and he hired her to document migratory workers in California. In the early 1930s, Lange intuitively took her camera to the streets, recording the breadlines and waterfront strikes of Depression San Francisco. In 1935 she began to work for the Resettlement Administration, which would later become the Farm Security Administration (FSA). She went to work for Roy Stryker and joined the company of Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Marion Post Wolcott, John Vachon, Jack Delano, Ben Shahn, and Arthur Rothstein. Together they created an enormous photographic legacy for America before, during, and immediately after the Great Depression. Lange used photography to document the difficult period of the Depression and to motivate federal agencies and individuals to take action to improve the situation. With her photographs Lange was able to capture the emotional and physical burdens some many American???s were experiencing. In 1935, collaborating with her second husband, labor economist Paul S. Taylor, she documented the troubled exodus of farm families migrating West in search of work. Lange's documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these years, with many of her photographs becoming instantly recognized symbols of the Depression. During World War II Lange documented the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps and recorded women and minority workers in wartime industries. In 1940 she became the first woman awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for photography. Lange's dedication and compassion drove her even during the final years of her life. In the 1950s and 60s she produced vivid photographic essays on Ireland, Asia, Egypt and the consequences of California's post-war boom. She died in 1965, her unique collection becoming a gift to the Oakland Museum of California. Lange documented many other great moments in her career, but her picture of sometime labor organizer, Florence Owens Thompson, mostly referred to as "Migrant Mother," stands apart from all but a few others in telling the human story of a profound time in American history. Lange did not see photography as an art form, but as documenting the lives and conditions of the suffering and each of her images tells its own story. Her prints hang in many museums around the world. Dorothea Lange died in 1965.


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