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Dorothea Lange

(1895-1965)
Documentary

Biography: The insightful and compassionate photographs of Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) have exerted a profound influence on the development of modern documentary photography. Lange's concern for people, her appreciation of the ordinary, and the striking empathy she showed for her subjects make her unique among photographers of her day.

The Art Department of the Oakland Museum of California holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of the work of Dorothea Lange, representing every facet of a long and varied career. Beginning as a commercial portrait photographer in 1920s San Francisco, Lange's early documentary work included images of Native Americans, made on travels to the Southwest with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon. By the early 1930s, studio work seemed limited and static to Lange; almost intuitively, she took her camera to the streets, to the breadlines, waterfront strikes, and down-and-out people of Depression-era San Francisco.

In 1935 Lange began her landmark work for the California and Federal Resettlement Administrations (later the Farm Security Administration).

Collaborating with her second husband, labor economist Paul Schuster Taylor, she documented the troubled exodus of farm families escaping the dust bowl as they migrated West in search of work. Lange's documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these year, with photographs such as "Migrant Mother" becoming instantly recognized symbols of the migrant experience. Coupled with Taylor's essays and captions, her photographs were hailed as persuasive evidence of the urgent need for government programs to assist disadvantaged Americans.

Although the coming of World War II brought an end to Lange's FSA work, the war opened a new chapter in her life as a photographer. During the War Lange documented the forced relocation of Japanese American citizens to internment camps; recorded the efforts of women and minority workers in wartime industries at California shipyards; and covered the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco. Only illness prevented her from completing a 1940 Simon Guggenheim Foundation grant to travel the country photographing the American people.

This dedication and compassion drove Lange even during the final years of her life. In the 1950s and 60s she produced vivid photographic essays on Ireland, Asia. Egypt, midwestern utopian communities, and the post-war industrial scene of the Bay Area.

Dorothea Lange died in 1965. The following year her unique collection became a gift to the Oakland Museum of California from her husband, Paul Schuster Taylor. The collection includes Lange's personal negative file of more than 25,000 images, over 6000 vintage prints, and a selection from Lange's personal papers and library. (Oakland Museum of California)

More on Dorothea Lange:

Oakland Museum of California
Features Background Information and Examples of Lange's Work.

Dorothea Lange - Focus on Richmond, CA
Lange's Impact on the city of Richmaond, CA.

Dorothea Lange - A Visual Life
A Documentary film.






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