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Definition: Lange, Dorothea from Philip's Encyclopedia

US photographer. Her portraits of urban poor and migrant labourers in California during the Great Depression and her images of rural America are classics of documentary photography.

Summary Article: LANGE, DOROTHEA
From The Encyclopedia of American Journalism

Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895-October 11, 1965) was one of America's most influential documentary photographers. She is best remembered for chronicling conditions of destitute farm families and migrant workers during the Great Depression. Lange was born Dorothea Nutzhorn on May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey, into a family of German immigrants. At age seven she was stricken with polio that left her with a slight limp. When Dorothea was twelve, her father deserted the family, and she later dropped Nutzhorn and adopted her mother's maiden name Lange. After graduating from Wadleigh High School for Girls in 1914, Lange decided to become a photographer. She attended New York Training School for Teachers from 1914 to 1917, but spent most of her time learning the craft of photography from photographers Arnold Genthe and Clarence H. White.

In 1918 Lange moved to San Francisco and found employment as a photofinisher and freelance photographer. The following year she opened a portrait studio and continued to work as a portrait photographer for the next sixteen years. During the early 1930s she became interested in photographing the people she saw from her studio window whose lives were affected by the Depression. She turned her camera to the human suffering she witnessed and photographed breadlines, unemployed men seeking work, and labor strikes. In 1934 her photographs were exhibited at the studio of photographer Willard Van Dyke.

In 1935 Lange was hired by the Rural Rehabilitation Division of the California State Emergency Relief Administration to photograph the migrant laborers who came to California. Later that year Lange was hired as a photographer for the Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration) to create images for government publicity to promote New Deal agricultural relief programs. In 1936 Lange made her most notable photograph, Migrant Mother, taken at a migrant workers’ campsite in California which depicts a woman and her children living in squalor in a pea picker's camp. The image was widely circulated in newspapers and magazines, and became a symbol for the plight of the rural poor. Lange worked for the Resettlement Administration until 1939, when she was dismissed due to budget cuts and a contentious relationship with her boss, Roy Stryker. The same year, Lange published a book of her photographs titled An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion, with her second husband, economist Paul Schuster Taylor, supplying the text.

In 1941 Lange became the first woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography, but was unable to complete it because of the nation's entry into World War II. Beginning in 1942, Lange was hired by the War Relocation Authority to photograph the internment camps where Japanese-Americans were held. From 1943 to 1945 she found employment with the Office of War Information in San Francisco. During the 1950s, Lange worked as a staff photographer for Life magazine, and produced several photographic essays including “Three Mormon Towns” (1954) and “Irish Country People” (1955). From 1958 to 1963 Lange again worked as a freelance photographer, accompanying her husband on U.S. aid missions around the world. In 1964 Lange was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, and she died on October 11, 1965.

Further Readings
  • Meltzer, Milton Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1978.
  • Ohrn, Karin Becker. Dorothea Lange and the Documentary Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
  • Partridge, Elizabeth Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange. New York: Viking, 1998.
  • Partridge, Elizabeth, ed. Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
  • Riess, Suzanne Dorothea Lange: The Making of a Documentary Photographer. Berkeley: University of California, Bancroft Library, Regional Oral History Office, 1968.
  • Taylor, Paul Schuster; Dorothea, Lange. An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1939. Rev. ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1975.
    © 2008 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

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