Lange, Dorothea

born May 26, 1895, Hoboken, N.J., U.S.
died Oct. 11, 1965, San Francisco, Calif.

U.S. documentary photographer.

She studied photography and opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in 1919. During the Great Depression, her photos of homeless men led to her employment by a federal agency to bring the plight of the poor to public attention. Her photographs were so effective that the government established camps for migrants. Her Migrant Mother (1936) was the most widely reproduced of all Farm Security Administration pictures. She produced several other photo essays, including one documenting the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.

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▪ American photographer
born May 26, 1895, Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S.
died October 11, 1965, San Francisco, California

      American documentary photographer whose portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression greatly influenced later documentary and journalistic photography.

      Lange studied photography at Columbia University in New York City under Clarence H. White, a member of the Photo-Secession group. In 1918 she decided to travel around the world, earning money as she went by selling her photographs. Her money ran out by the time she got to San Francisco, so she settled there and obtained a job in a photography studio.

      During the Great Depression, Lange began to photograph the unemployed men who wandered the streets of San Francisco. Pictures such as White Angel Breadline (1932), showing the desperate condition of these men, were publicly exhibited and received immediate recognition both from the public and from other photographers, especially members of of Group f.64. These photographs also led to a commission in 1935 from the federal Resettlement Administration (later called the Farm Security Administration [FSA]). The latter agency, established by the U.S. Agriculture Department, hoped that Lange's powerful images would bring the conditions of the rural poor to the public's attention. Her photographs of migrant workers, with whom she lived for some time, were often presented with captions featuring the words of the workers themselves. FSA director Roy Styker considered her most famous portrait, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936), to be the iconic representation of the agency's agenda. The work now hangs in the Library of Congress (Congress, Library of).

      Lange's first exhibition was held in 1934, and thereafter her reputation as a skilled documentary photographer was firmly established. In 1939 she published a collection of her photographs in the book An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion. Two years later she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1942 she recorded the mass evacuation of Japanese-Americans to detention camps after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. After World War II she created a number of photo-essays, including Mormon Villages and The Irish Countryman, for Life magazine. The year after her death in 1965, she was honoured with a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Additional Reading
Milton Meltzer, Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life (1978, reissued 2000); Therese Thau Heyman, Sandra S. Phillips, and John Szarkowski, Dorothea Lange: American Photographs (1994); Elizabeth Partridge (ed.), Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life (1994); Aperture Foundation, Dorothea Lange, with an essay by Christopher Cox (1981, reissued 1987).

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Lange, Dorothea — (1895 1965)    Born Dorothea Margarette Nutzhorn in Hoboken, New Jersey, the photographer and photojournalist dropped her middle name and adopted her mother’s maiden name after her father abandoned the family. A victim of polio at the age of… …   Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era

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