Dorothea Lange is one of the pioneering documentary photographers of the 20th century. In the 1930s, she documented the social consequences of the Great Depression. She photographed labour strikes, unemployed men in the streets and her portraits of displaced farmers influenced American documentary photography. The photos often carried inscriptions with the protagonists’ own words. The first exhibition of Lange’s photography took place in 1934.
Dorothea Lange was born Dorothea Nutzhorn on 26 May 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father Heinrich Nutzhorn was a lawyer and her mother stayed at home to raise children. At the age of 7 Dorothea contracted polio which left her leg weakened for the rest of her life. As she said, “it formed me, guided me, taught me, helped me and humbled me”. Her parents divorced before she reached her teenage years. She blamed her father for the situation and as a result she abandoned his name, choosing to take her mother’s maiden name, Lange. She studied at Columbia University and continued to hone her photography skills as an assistant of various photographers, including the famous portrait photographer Arnold Genethe or Clarence Hudson White in his prestigious school of photography. In the mid-1930s she divorced the artist Maynard Dixon, the father of her two children, and entered into a relationship with the economist Paul Taylor who first showed interest in her photographs when they were on display on Willard Van Dyke’s Brockhurst Gallery in Oakland in 1934. The couple travelled a lot, documenting for Farm Security Administration the hardships of rural life. Taylor wrote reports and Lange took photographs of the people she encountered. This collection includes Lange’s most famous portrait, “Migrant Mother”, the icon of the Great Depression, which in a delicate and sublime way captured the hardship and pain experienced by many Americans.
In 1941, Lange was the first woman in history to receive Guggenheim’s Fellowship. After the US entered World War II, Lange photographed the internment of Japanese Americans. In 1945, the Office of War Information (OWI) hired her to document the conference in San Francisco that led to the creation of the United Nations.
Even though in the last 20 years of her life, Lange struggled with increasing health problems, she remained professionally active. She co-founded Aperture – a small publishing house producing a magazine and high quality photography books. Assignments for Life magazine took her to Utah, Ireland, and the Death Valley. She also accompanied her husband on his work-related assignments to Pakistan, Korea and Vietnam, among other places, and documented what she saw along the way.
Lange passed away from esophageal cancer in October 1965
The photographs presented in the exhibition come from the collection of the Library of Congress of the United States.
When: July 2020, outdoor exhibition available for viewing every day, with no time limits.
Where: The Hartwig Alley