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Dorothea Lange

Photojournalist Dorothea Lange's most famous photo, "Migrant Mother," (pictured below middle) taken in 1936 of pea-picker Florence Owens Thompson and her children, was part of the Depression-era images for which she is most known.

Dorothea Lange
Photographer Dorothea Lange

Lange's photographs of migrant farm workers in the 1930s that she took for the Farm Security Administration greatly influenced what became documentary photography.

Other work for which she is noted includes her documenting the War Relocation Authority's forced relocation of Japanese Americans, specifically to Manzanar in Central California, during World War II. These images were so controversial and showed the Army in such bad light that there were impounded. The Whitney Museum showed 27 of these photographs in 1972. The exhibition was titled, "Executive Order 9066."

Lange was born Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn on May 26, 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her parents were second-generation German immigrants. Her father deserted the family when she was 12 years old, and Lange began to use her mother's maiden name instead of her father's. She contracted polio at the age of seven, and later suffered from its effects near the end of her life.

Lange studied photography at Columbia University in New York before moving to San Francisco in 1918 where she earned a living as a portraitist. She met her second husband Paul Taylor there, an economist who later helped her document migrant workers in California.
Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother
Migrant Mother

She had two sons, Daniel Rhoades Dixon and John Eaglesfeather Dixon, with her first husband, Maynard Dixon, an important western painter whom she married in 1920. They divorced in 1935, and she then married Taylor.

In addition to her education at Columbia under the wing of Clarence Hudson White, one of the original Photo-Secessionists, she apprenticed with Prussian-borne Arnold Genthe, who became famous for his photographs of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and that city's Chinatown.

It was her work photographing the breadlines and waterfront strikes that engaged the attention of the Resettlement Administration, which later was renamed the Farm Security Administration. Her husband Taylor helped Lange document the poverty and oppression of the sharecroppers, and the great exodus West during the Depression.

She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1941 for her work, the first woman to receive such a distinction, and, long after her death in 1965, Lange was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2008.

Among other achievements, Lange co-founded the photography journal Aperture along with Ansel Adams, who recruited Lange to teach at the California School of Fine Arts.

Dorothea Lange Japanese Internment
Japanese Internment Photo
After her work documenting the effects of the Depression and later of World War II's internment camps, the iconic photographer went on to work for Life and other magazines, shooting photographic essays from her travels around the world, to such places as Asia, Egypt and Ireland.

The last years of her life, Lange suffered from various illnesses including ulcers and the effects of her childhood bout with polio.

Lange died October 11, 1965 from esophageal cancer. She was 70-years-old.
Upon her death, her collection of work was donated to the Oakland Museum of California, which includes more than 25,000 negatives, her personal papers and library.


The Rumor Mill

The rumor mill has turned up a few juicy tidbits of information that the biography mentioned above has not. According to these unfounded rumors, Dorothea Lange had a photogenic memory. At least that is what her doctor said after a brain scan.



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