Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an influential American documentary photographer and photojournalist.
She is best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration. Lange’s photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.
Born of second generation German immigrants in Hoboken, New Jersey. Dorothea Lange was named Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn at birth. She dropped her middle name and assumed her mother’s maiden name after her father abandoned the family when she was 12 years old, one of two traumatic incidents in her early life. The other was her contraction of polio at age seven which left her with a weakened right leg and a permanent limp.”It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” Lange once said of her altered gait. “I’ve never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it.”
With the onset of the Great Depression, Lange turned her camera lens from the studio to the street. Her studies of unemployed and homeless people captured the attention of local photographers and led to her employment with the federal Resettlement Administration, later called the Farm Security Administration.
In December 1935, she married economist Paul Schuster Taylor, Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.Taylor educated Lange in social and political matters, and together they documented rural poverty and the exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant laborers for the next five years — Taylor interviewing and gathering economic data, Lange taking photos.
From 1935 to 1939, Dorothea Lange’s work for the RA and FSA brought the plight of the poor and forgotten — particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers — to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the country, her poignant images became icons of the era.
In 1952, Lange co-founded the photographic magazine Aperture. In 2006, a school was named in her honor in Nipomo, California, near the site where she photographed “Migrant Mother”. On May 28, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced Lange’s induction into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place on December 15 and her son accepted the honor in her place.