A significant American photojournalist and photographer, Dorothea Lange, lived from 1895 until 1965. Lange studied photography under Clarence H. White in New York at the Columbia University. She did many informal apprenticeships at studios of photography in New York, including Arnold Genthe. She shifted to San Francisco in 1918 and the next year she opened her own studio for portrait photography. In 1920, she tied herself into marriage with Maynard Dixon, a noted painter and they had two children.
When the Great Depression hit the world, Lange left studio photography and took her camera to the streets. She did photographic studies on homeless and unemployed people and this caught the attention of other photographers which resulted in her being employed by the Resettlement Administration, a U.S. federal agency which was then changed to FSA (Farm Security Administration).
In 1935, she married Paul Schuster Taylor after separating from Dixon. Taylor taught Lange about political and social matters since he was an economist and a professor at the University of California. The duo then started documenting the exploitation of migrant workers and sharecropper, as well as the poverty in rural areas. Taylor interviewed people and collected statistical data and Lange took photos.
All the work she did between 1935 to 1939 for FSA was distributed to newspaper for free. Hence, her images became popular among the public and her touching photos became the era’s icons. Her best photo was Migrant Mother. Florence Owens Thompson who had seven children, was the subject of this photo. Dorothea Lange described her experience of capturing this image in 1960. Lange was attracted to the site of a desperate and hungry mother with her children cuddled to her and she photographed them five times. Thompson told Lange about her conditions and how she and her children were surviving on iced vegetables and birds that they killed. After this, Lange went back home and told the newspaper editor of San Francisco about the camp conditions and this resulted in an article with these photos. Then, the government instantly sent aid to those starving people.
Dorothea Lange was given the Guggenheim Fellowship award in 1941 for photographic excellence. However, she gave up the exalted award to document Japanese American’s forceful evacuation to replacement camps, as assigned by the War Relocation Authority. Her focus was the Manzanar camp. These pictures struck several observers to ponder over the fact that people were detained without even being charged of any crime. The Army confiscated her images since they were critical about the Army’s role. These pictures are available to date at the Bancroft Library at the University of California and on the Still Photographs Division’s website.
In 1952, Lange co-founded Aperture, the magazine on photography. Pirkle Jones and Dorothea Lange were commissioned by Life to document the dissolution of Moticello, a town in California. Unfortunately, Life did not feature the work but Lange included the work in her magazine. The collection of photographs was displayed in 1960 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the last twenty years of her life, Lange suffered from poor health and finally at the age of 70 after much pain, she died from esophageal cancer. In 1972, some of Lange’s images were shown at the Whitney Museum. In 2006, a school in Nipomo in California was named after her. Lange was included in the California Hall of Fame in 2008.