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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Dorothea Lange

Names:
Born: Dorothea Nutzhorn 
Dates:  1895, 26 May - 1965, 11 October
Born:  US, NJ, Hoboken
Active:  US
 
  
American documentary photographer - best known for her work with the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Dorothea Lange
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
Along with photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange worked for the American government’s Farm Security Administration programme during the Great Depression of the 1930's. The F.S.A. was set up to relieve poverty in rural areas but also involved photographing conditions faced by displaced farmers who had been hit by the Depression and by drought. Lange’s Californian Migrant Mother is one of the most widely known of all photographs; the tightly composed, highly concentrated composition has made it an icon of socially committed photography. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Biography provided by Focal Press 
  
Studied photography with Arnold Genthe (1915) and then Clarence White at Columbia University (1917–1918). Opened a portrait studio in San Francisco (1919–1934). In 1932, as the Great Depression deepened, Lange felt she must take her camera out of her studio into the streets where she recorded labor strikes, demonstrations, and unemployment lines. A woman of great commitment, Lange dedicated her photography to revealing "the human condition" and social reform. Employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1935 to 1942, she established her reputation as one of America’s most gifted documentary photographers. She photographed all over the United States, producing a rich portrait of a poor America (publishing An American Exodus with husband, Paul Taylor, in 1939). Best known for her gripping images of migrant workers, including the iconic, Migrant Mother (1936), Lange continued to work for Federal agencies during WWII. In 1941 she was the first woman ever to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. She closely advised Edward Steichen on the Family of Man exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1955. During her later years, though slowed by illness, she traveled, taught, and worked freelance for several publications including LIFE, with photo-essays on the Mormons with Ansel Adams and later, Irish country women.
 
Originally published in the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 3rd edition by Mary Alinder. Updated by E. Ken White. 
  
(Author: Ken White - Rochester Institute of Technology) 
  
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 
  

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Unidentified photographer
Dorothea Lange 
1936, February
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

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Supplemental information

 

Dorothea Lange
American, 1895-1965

Lange was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1895 and studied photography with Clarence White at Columbia University. She moved to San Francisco in 1918 where she opened up a portrait studio. In the 1930's Dorothea Lange photographed the people caught in midst of the Great Depression. Her work is an intense vision of ordinary people in what are the physical and social circumstances of their lives. Lange documented the breakdown of traditional rural life as farm dwellers became impoverished by a long-standing agricultural depression, and replaced by machines in the field. Her work became a classic work of dislocation and exploitation. Lange wanted her photographs to say something to the viewer and cause the viewer to come back and look again and again. Her photographs resulted in the state of California building camps for the migrant workers. Lange's innate sympathy and direct vision enabled her to create photographs that are both sensitive and powerful. In 1941 she resigned from a Guggenheim Fellowship in order to document the Japanese internment camps. Lange died in San Francisco in 1965.
 
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 
  
 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography.Show on this siteGo to website
 

Internet resources

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Dorothea Lange 
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Dorothea Lange 
http://memory.loc.gov ... 
  
Dorothea Lange 
http://www.museumca.org ... 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.168 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.293-294 
  
• Fernandez, Horacio (ed.) 2000 Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 (Aldeasa) p.153 [This Spanish exhibition catalogue is one of the best sources for illustrations of photomontage and book design for the period between the two World Wars.] 
  
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.220 [Includes a well written short biography on Dorothea Lange with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Dorothea Lange.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.178 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.252-253 
  
• Koetzle, Hans-Michael 2002 Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures - Volume 2 (Koln: Taschen) [This book discusses one photograph "Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936)" by Dorothea Lange in considerable detail. An excellent source for a detailed analysis.] 
  
• Lahs-Gonzales, Olivia & Lippard, Lucy 1997 Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century. Selections from the Helen Kornblum Collection (Saint Louis Art Museum, D.A.P.) [Dorothea Lange is included in this overview of women photographers.] 
  
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.148-151] 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Dorothea Lange are included in this classic history.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.130 [Analyzes a single photograph by Dorothea Lange.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Dorothea Lange was represented in 75 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
 

Quotations

The wit and wisdom.

 
"Hands off! I do not molest what I photograph, I do not meddle and I do not arrange."
"I am trying here to say something about the despised, the defeated, the alienated. About death and disaster, about the wounded, the crippled, the helpless, the rootless, the dislocated. About finality. About the last ditch."
"One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you‘d be stricken blind."
"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still."
"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."
"This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate."
"While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see."
 
  
 
  
 
  
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