Dorothea Lange – As Real as it Gets

Dorothea Lange

Photo by Dorothea Lange

Much has been written about American photographer Dorothea Lange, and rightfully so. There are several booksDorothea Lange that have been published chronicling her life and incredible photographs. This article is for those of you who never get tired of looking at remarkable art and photos, and for those like myself, who are fairly new to the Dorothea Lange fan club.

Dorothea Lange – Photographer with an Impact

Dorothea Lange was born in Hoboken, NJ, on May 25, 1895. She had polio as a child, and walked with a limp because the polio did permanent damage to her right leg. At the age of 12, her father abruptly left the family. No warning, no word, and no money.

Dorothea Lange

Migrant Mother (2), Nipomo, Ca, 1936, Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange took this photo in 1936. This woman was in  a pea pickers camp in California with her four children. The pea crop had been ruined by bad weather. There was no work, no money, little food and not much of anything else. Lange took this photo along with some others, developed them, and proceeded to take them to the San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper. The paper ran the story with the photos about the pea crop being destroyed. The response to the article and Lange’s photographs was nationwide and immediate. The U.S. government sent 20,000 lbs. of food to California as a result.

 In January of 1918, at the age of 22, Dorothea and a friend set off on a trip around the world. They made it to San Francisco, and on their first day, their money was stolen. It was during this time in San Francisco that Dorothea dropped her last name (Nutzhorn) and took her mothers maiden name, Lange.

Dorothea Lange was able to open her own portrait photo studio in San Francisco with a loan from an acquaintance. At around 5pm every day, her assistant would make tea, and artists of all types would come by her studio to drink tea, talk, and dance.

Dorothea Lange

“White Angel Bread Line,” San Francisco, 1933, Dorothea Lange

It was during this social time that she first met painter Maynard Dixon. At first Dorothea was afraid of him, then grew to be fascinated by him. They were married in 1920, and had two sons together.

Dorothea Lange and Maynard Dixon were together in San Francisco when the stock market crashed in 1929. Some of the people who had bought Lange’s photographs and Dixon’s paintings were now hurting financially. About this time Lange started to take photographs of the soup lines, the down and out, and people of the street.

It seems that it is about this time when Dorothea Lange has all but realized that these “documentary” photographs are what she needs and wants to do with her work.

 Dorothea Lange and Maynard Dixon were divorced in 1935. Lange then married Paul Taylor, an economist for the University of California, Berkeley, who first saw Lange’s photographs in an exhibit in the San Francisco area. Together they worked to document rural poverty among migrant farm workers and laborers. Taylor would do the interviews, while Lang would take the photographs.

Dorothea Lange

“Cheap Auto Camp Housing for Citrus Workers”, Tulane County, CA 1940, Dorothea Lange

 To get photos like these she had to travel, work long days, meet these people and observe all kinds of human condition, most of which was not pleasant. During the next phase of her life, Dorothea Lange would photograph the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans to relocation camps. She and Paul Taylor would travel to the Southwest and to the south. She would photograph the massive shipyards in San Francisco, and travel to Asia, South America, and the Middle East.

Dorothea Lange

“Young Share Cropper and his first child, Hillside Farm, Person County, NC. Dorothea Lange

 

Dorothea Lange

“Migrant Pea Pickers near Westley, CA, 1938” Dorothea Lange

 

Dorothea Lange – A Photographer to Remember

Dorothea Lange died on October 11, 1965 from esophageal cancer at age 70. Aside from the content and subject matter of her photos, the compositions are exquisite. The values and  shapes she captured along with the emotion of her subjects is not to be overlooked. Add in the time in our country’s history, and we’ve got ourselves a national treasure here. It was hard to choose from so many exceptional photos for this article. She made a huge impact in her time that will be felt long into the future. Here are some great booksDorothea Lange to consider when you want to see more:

  • Restless Spirit – The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange, by Elizabeth Partridge
  • Dorothea Lange – A life beyond limits, by Linda Gordon
  • Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field by Anne Whiston Spirn
  • Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment, by Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro
  • Dorothea Lange by Mark Durden
  • Dorothea Lang’s Ireland by Dorothea Lange, Daniel Dixon, Gerry Mullins, and Oakland Museum of California
  • Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime (Aperture Monograph) by Robert Coles, Dorothea Lange, Therese Heyman

    Dorothea Lange

    “Ecuador 1960” Dorothea Lange

 


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