DOROTHEA LANGE Biography - Craftmen, artisans and people from other Occupations


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Name: Dorothea Lange                                                                     
Born: 25 May 1895                                                                         
Died: 11 October 1965                                                                     
Dorothea Lange (May 25, 1895 - October 11, 1965) was an influential American             
documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era           
work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange's photographs humanized           
the tragic consequences of the Great Depression and profoundly influenced the             
development of documentary photography.                                                   
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, her birth name was Dorothea Margarette Nutzhorn.             
She eventually dropped her middle and last names, adopting her mother's maiden           
name of Lange. Lange developed polio in 1902, at age 7. Like many other polio             
victims before treatment was available, Lange emerged with a weakened and                 
wizened right leg and dropped foot. Although she compensated well for her                 
disability, she always limped.                                                           
Lange learned photography in New York City in a class taught by Clarence H.               
White and informally apprenticed her to several New York photography studios,             
including that of the famed Arnold Genthe. In 1918, she moved to San Francisco,           
where she opened a successful portrait studio. She lived across the bay in               
Berkeley for the rest of her life. In 1920, she married the noted western                 
painter Maynard Dixon, with whom she had two sons: Daniel, born 1925, and John,           
born 1928.                                                                               
With the onset of the Great Depression, Lange turned her camera lens from the             
studio to the street. Her studies of unemployed and homeless people captured the         
attention of local photographers and led to her employment with the federal               
Resettlement Administration (RA), later called the Farm Security Administration           
In December 1935, she divorced Dixon and married agricultural economist Paul             
Schuster Taylor, Professor of Economics at the University of California,                 
Berkeley. Taylor educated Lange in social and political matters, and together             
they documented rural poverty and the exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant           
laborers for the next five years — Taylor interviewing and gathering economic           
data, Lange taking photos.                                                               
From 1935 to 1939, Lange's work for the RA and FSA brought the plight of the             
poor and forgotten ( particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and             
migrant workers ) to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the         
country, her poignant images became icons of the era.                                     
Lange's Migrant Mother, Florence Owens Thompson                                           
Lange's best-known picture is titled "Migrant Mother". The woman in the photo is         
Florence Owens Thompson, but Lange apparently never knew her name. The original           
photo had Florence's thumb and index finger on the tent pole, and was retouched           
in an attempt to hide Florence's thumb. Her index finger was left untouched.             
In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience taking the photograph:                         
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.                                                                                 
According to Thompson's son, Lange got some details of this story wrong, but             
the impact of the picture was based on the image showing the strength and need           
of migrant workers.                                                                       
Lange's photo of the Japanese Relocation                                                 
In 1941, Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for excellence in photography.         
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she gave up the prestigious award to record             
the forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans (Nisei) to relocation camps in the           
American West, on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA). She covered         
the rounding up of Japanese Americans, their evacuation into temporary assembly           
centers, and Manzanar, the first of the permanent internment camps. To many               
observers, her photograph of young Japanese-American girls pledging allegiance           
to the flag shortly before they were sent to internment camps is a haunting               
reminder of this policy of detaining people without charging them with any crime         
or affording them any appeal.                                                             
Her images were so obviously critical that the Army impounded them. Today her             
photographs of the internment are available in the National Archives on the               
website of the Still Photographs Division, and at the Bancroft Library of the             
University of California, Berkeley.                                                       
In 1952, Lange co-founded the photographic magazine Aperture. In the last two             
decades of her life, Lange's health was poor. She suffered from gastric problems,         
including bleeding ulcers, as well as post-polio syndrome although this                   
renewal of the pain and weakness of polio was not yet recognized by most                 
physicians. She died of esophageal cancer on October 11, 1965, aged 70.                   
Lange was survived by her second husband, Paul Taylor, two children, three step-children, 
and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.                                       
In 1972 the Whitney Museum used 27 of Lange's photographs in an exhibit entitled         
Executive Order 9066. This exhibit highlighted the Japanese Internment during             
World War 2.