Lange, Dorothea

Lange, Dorothea, 1895–1965, American photographer, b. Hoboken, N.J. as Dorothea Nutzhorn, adopted her mother's maiden name in her twenties. From 1916 until 1932, Lange operated a portrait studio. During the Great Depression she took her camera into the streets of San Francisco where she began to make exceptionally powerful images of people, which speak of the time and the world in which they were made; among the best known of these is White Angel Breadline (1933). During the 1930s, California commissioned a report on the way of life of migrant laborers, and Lange made the report in collaboration with her future husband, Paul Taylor, an economics professor. Her photographs emphasized the laborers' dignity and pride in an environment of starkest poverty; the report resulted in the establishment of state-built camps for migrants. From 1935 to 1942 she worked in the Farm Security Administration, documenting rural America. She interviewed her subjects and included captions with her images. One of the most famous images from this period is her iconic Migrant Mother, photographed in California in 1936. She also photographed African-American field hands. Reproduced widely in magazines and newspapers, her photographs helped create a national awareness of the farmers' plight and profoundly influenced American photojournalism with their simplicity and directness. At the outbreak of war with Japan, Lange documented the mass evacuation of Japanese-Americans to concentration camps, photographs that were suppressed by the U.S. government until 1964. In 1945 she covered the United Nations Conference in San Francisco, and collapsed from overwork. She did not photograph again until 1951, when she began to travel, producing photo-essays for Life magazine, e.g., Three Mormon Towns (1954) and The Irish Country People (1955). Lange's books include An American Exodus (with husband P. Taylor; 1939) and The American Country Woman (1966).

See biographies by M. Meltzer (2000) and L. Gordon (2009); studies by K. E. Becker (1980), P. Borhan, ed. (2002), R. Coles (2005), and A. W. Spirn (2009); S. Meister et al., ed., Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures (museum catalog, 2020).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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