The Life of Famous Documentary Photographer Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange was a photographer whose portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression greatly influenced later documentary photography. Her photographs focused on migrant workers during The Great Depression. Lange’s first exhibition, which was held in 1934, established her reputation as a documentary photographer. In 1940, she would also receive the Guggenheim Fellowship.
Growing up art and literature were big parts of Lange’s upbringing. Her parents were both strong advocates for her education, and exposure to creative works filled her childhood. Following high school, she attended the New York Training School for Teachers in 1913. Lange, who’d never shown much interest in academics, decided to pursue photography as a profession after a stint working in an NYC photo studio. She went on to study the art form at Columbia University, and then, over the next several years, cut her teeth as an apprentice, working for several photographers, including Arnold Genthe, a leading portrait photographer. In 1917, she also studied with Clarence Hudson White at his prestigious school of photography. By 1918, Lange was living in San Francisco and soon running a successful portrait studio. With her husband, muralist Maynard Dixon, she had two sons and settled into the comfortable middle-class life she’d known as a child.
Lange’s first real taste of documentary photography came in the 1920s when she traveled around the Southwest with Dixon, mostly photographing Native Americans. With the onslaught of the Great Depression in the 1930s, she trained her camera on what she started to see in her own San Francisco neighborhoods: labor strikes and breadlines. Over the next five years, the couple traveled extensively together, documenting the rural hardship they encountered for the Farm Security Administration, established by the U.S. Agriculture Department. Taylor wrote reports, and Lange photographed the people they This body of work included Lange’s most well-known portrait, ‘Migrant Mother’, an iconic image from this period that gently and beautifully captured the hardship and pain of so many Americans were experiencing. The work now hangs in the Library of Congress.
While she battled increasing health problems over the last two decades of her life, Lange stayed active. She co-founded Aperture, a small publishing house that produces periodical and high-end photography books. She took on assignments for Life magazine, traveling through Utah, Ireland, and Death Valley. She also accompanied her husband on his work-related assignments in Pakistan, Korea and Vietnam, among other places, documenting what she saw along the way.
Lange passed away from esophageal cancer in October 1965.
Lange was a photographer for the Resettlement Association. For the last fifteen years or so, she’d made her living taking portraits of the San Francisco elite. But after the Great Depression hit, she left her studio and began to document the effects of the crisis on the residents of the city. On seeing those photographs, Roy Stryker immediately hired her to work for the government on a project would involve documenting poor rural workers in a propaganda effort to elicit...
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