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 in San Francisco. During the Great Depression she took her camera into the streets, where she began to make powerful images of people that speak of the time and the world in which they were made; among the best known is White Angel Breadline (1933). From 1935 to 1942 she worked for California's relief administration and then what became the Farm Security Administration, documenting migrant laborers, rural America, and African-American field hands. A state report on migrant laborers by Paul Taylor, an economics professor who became her husband, included her photographs, which emphasized the laborers' dignity and pride amid poverty; it led the state to build camps for migrants. Her work for the FSA, in which she interviewed her subjects and included captions with her images, produced the iconic Migrant Mother (1936), one of the most famous photographs of the period. Reproduced widely, her photographs helped create a national awareness of the plight of farmers and laborers, and their simplicity and directness profoundly influenced American photojournalism. At the outbreak of war with Japan, Lange documented the forced relocation 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 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); museum catalog by S. Meister et al., ed. (2020).

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