Lange, Dorothea

American (1895-1965)

Compassion for humanity is a trademark of Dorothea Lange’s (1895-1965) work. Polio, at age 7, left her with a permanent limp, and her own suffering and slow walks through Manhattan allowed a young Lange to record, in her mind, sights and faces that many others had missed. This “camera-less photography: inspired her to pursue the real thing, and Lange was soon apprenticed to several photographers, learning the medium. In 1919, she moved to San Francisco and opened a successful studio of her own; portraits paid the bills, but her studies of the homeless and unemployed soon garnered her the attention of the federal government and a job with the Farm Security Administration. From 1935-1939, she took moving shots of Depression survivors, creating her most iconic images alongside then-husband Paul Schuster Taylor, an economics professor and activist.

Lange found that her limp enabled solidarity with her subjects, like them, she was incomplete and insecure. Though moments earlier, she had been eating frozen vegetables and birds gathered from a wintry field with her children, Florence Owens Thompson, Langes’ famous “Migrant Mother” was not embarrassed to speak with the photographer and allowed her to capture a portrait that has moved millions. Never one to sacrifice her principles, Lange turned down a Guggenheim during WWII so that she could record the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. Despite her bravery and convictions, the Army impounded most of her negatives. In 1952, Lange co-founded the magazine Aperture and continued to shoot for the journal for the rest of her life, capturing historic moments like the founding of the United Nations.