The word 'critical" has three meanings which are dangerous, important, and disapproving. The purpose of this blog is to examine important or over-looked cultural, political, artistic, or historical issues of our time. Also, this blog is intended to be educational.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Dorothea Lange: Photographer of the Great Depression
Dorothea Lange One should really use the camera as
though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind.- Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange was a photographer
whose portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression greatly influenced
later documentary photography.
* * *
Great Depression, Dorothea Lange photographed the unemployed men who wandered
the streets. Her photographs of migrant workers were often presented with
captions featuring the words of the workers themselves. Lange’s first
exhibition, held in 1934, established her reputation as a skilled documentary
photographer. In 1940, she received the Guggenheim Fellowship.
One of the preeminent and pioneering documentary photographers
of the 20th century, Dorothea Lange was born Dorothea Nutzhorn on May 26, 1895,
in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father, Heinrich Nutzhorn, was a lawyer, and her
mother, Johanna, stayed at home to raise Dorothea and her brother, Martin.
was 7, Dorothea contracted polio, which left her right leg and foot noticeably
weakened. Later, however, she’d feel almost appreciative of the effects the
illness had on her life. “[It] was the most important thing that happened to
me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” she
before Dorothea reached her teen years, her parents divorced. Dorothea grew to
blame the separation on her father and eventually dropped his surname and took
her mother’s maiden name, Lange, as her own.
literature were big parts of Lange’s upbringing. Her parents were both strong
advocates for her education, and exposure to creative works filled her
high school, Lange, who’d never shown much interest in academics, decided to
pursue photography as a profession. She studied the art form at Columbia
University, and then, over the next several years, cut her teeth as an
apprentice, working for several different photographers, including Arnold
Genthe, a leading portrait photographer.
Lange was living in San Francisco and soon running a successful portrait
studio. With her husband, muralist Maynard Dixon, she had two sons and settled
into the comfortable middle-class life she’d known as a child.
Lange’s first real taste of documentary photography came in
the 1920s when she traveled around the Southwest with Dixon, mostly
photographing Native Americans. With the onslaught of the Great Depression in
the 1930s, she trained her camera on what she started to see in her own San
Francisco neighborhoods: labor strikes and breadlines.
early 1930s, Lange, mired in an unhappy marriage, met Paul Taylor, a university
professor and labor economist. Their attraction was immediate, and by 1935,
both had left their respective spouses to be with each other.
next five years, the couple traveled extensively together, documenting the
rural hardship they encountered for the Farm Security Administration,
established by the U.S. Agriculture Department. Taylor wrote reports, and Lange
photographed the people they met. This body of work included Lange’s most
well-known portrait, Migrant Mother, an iconic image from
this period that gently and beautifully captured the hardship and pain of what
so many Americans were experiencing. The work now hangs in the Library of
would later note, Lange’s access to the inner lives of these struggling
Americans was the result of patience and careful consideration of the people
she photographed. “Her method of work,” Taylor later said, “was often to just
saunter up to the people and look around, and then when she saw something that
she wanted to photograph, to quietly take her camera, look at it, and if she
saw that they objected, why, she would close it up and not take a photograph,
or perhaps she would wait until… they were used to her.”
Lange became the first woman awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.
Following America’s entrance into World War II, Lange was
hired by the Office of War Information (OWI) to photograph the internment of
Japanese Americans. In 1945, she was employed again by the OWI, this time to
document the San Francisco conference that created the United Nations.
battled increasing health problems over the last two decades of her life, Lange
stayed active. She co-founded Aperture, a small publishing house
that produces a periodical and high-end photography books. She took on
assignments for Life magazine, traveling through Utah, Ireland and Death
Valley. She also accompanied her husband on his work-related assignments in
Pakistan, Korea and Vietnam, among other places, documenting what she saw along
passed away from esophageal cancer in October 1965.
Lange sometimes grew frustrated that her work didn’t always provoke society to
correct the injustices she documented, her photography has endured and greatly
influenced generations of documentary photographers.