Filtering by Category: Dorothea Lange

The government photographer who gave a face to American poverty

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Written by Meredith Mendelsohn, CNN

In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken Dust Bowl refugees poured into California from the parched Midwest in search of food, jobs and dignity. Meanwhile, much of the country, mired in its own Depression-fueled misery, was oblivious to the ecological and social catastrophe at hand. Armed with a camera and a good dose of outrage and compassion, Dorothea Lange set out to change that.

It's a recurring theme throughout modern history, the downtrodden and their advocates. For Lange, photographing the subjugated was her way of aiding them. She pioneered a use of the camera as a powerful catalyst for social change, and in an era erupting with humanitarian conflict, her legacy resonates.

Lange's Depression-era photos are so tightly woven into the fabric of American culture that, for many of us, our memories of that period are inseparable from the scenes she captured with her camera, from her iconic portrait of maternal demoralization and perseverance, "Migrant Mother" (1936), to her over-farmed fields, ramshackle lean-to tents and dusty jalopies.

Her mission was not just personal: Lange had been hired by the photographic unit of the Farm Security Administration -- a progressive New Deal agency founded to alleviate poverty -- to document the growing migrant crisis. But her images went far beyond bureaucratic reportage. A skilled portraitist, Lange famously possessed an ability to return a sense of dignity to a group that had been routinely dehumanized. She had also come of age during the modernist transformation of photography into an art form, and turned her lens on America's social ills with an aesthetically gripping style that captured the country's imagination.

"She and the FSA were clearly dedicated to improving the lives of migrants and drought refugees by creating public sympathy through the use of powerful imagery. And of all the FSA photographers, I think Lange was the most successful at making images that were factual, but which also packed an emotional wallop," Drew Johnson, the curator of photography and visual culture at the Oakland Museum of California, said in an email. Johnson curated "Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing," a major traveling exhibition now on view at the Barbican in London (organized by Alona Pardo and Jilke Golbach).

Read the entire article at CNN.

Timeless Photographs of Dorothea Lange - JPR

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Jefferson Public Radio takes a look into Dorothea Lange's expansive work in and around the border of Northern California and Oregon. 

"Even those well-versed in Dorothea Lange's photography usually aren't aware that Lange took over 800 documented photographs in JPR's listening area.

The neglect of these Northwest photographs is a pity,” writes Linda Gordon, Ph.D., in a 2009 article published in Oregon Historical Quarterly. Though Gordon—a professor of History at New York University who considers Portland, Oregon her hometown and author of the comprehensive biography Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits—refers to Lange’s Oregon photos as “second best” and argues that they “do not match the stunning achievement of her Depression best"

Dorothea Lange,  Mother and two children on the road.

Dorothea Lange, Mother and two children on the road.

Jefferson Public Radio is a service of Southern Oregon University and NPR for Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Douglas, and Siskiyou, Shasta and Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

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80th Anniversary of Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother' Portrait

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March 2016 is the 80th Anniversary of the San Fransisco News publishing of Dorothea Lange's famed Migrant Mother portrait, created in Nipomo, CA in 1936.  

March 1936: Portrait of Florence Owens Thompson known as "Migrant Mother" taken in Nipomo, Calif., by Dorothea Lange. This is the retouched version.

The LA Times has shared first hand accounts of the day the iconic portrait was created.  Nearing on the end of her assignment for the Farm Security Administration, Lange was traveling to Berkley, passing through Nipomo just south of San Luis Obispo, when she spotted a pea-picker camp, home of Florence Owens Thompson.  She continued to drive, until she changed her course of travel.  In her own words:

Having well convinced myself for 20 miles that I could continue on, I did the opposite. Almost without realizing what I was doing I made a U-turn on the empty highway. I went back those 20 miles and turned off the highway at that sign… I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds the the children killed. … The pea crop at Nipomo had frozen and there was no work for anybody. But I did not approach the tents or shelters of other stranded pea-pickers, It was not necessary; I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment.
— Text from a 1960 Popular Photography Interview with Lange

Two of Lange's portraits were published in the San Francisco News on March 10, 1936 causing a snowballing influence on national headlines and exposure of Dorothea Lange's portrait across America.  Today, Migrant Mother is the most iconic and recognizable image of The Great Depression of the 1930's.

Read the article on LA Times Framework website accompanied by a photo gallery of 5 images of Florence Thomas taken by Dorothea Lange.



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Featuring works by twenty artists from our gallery roster, Passing Through pays homage to the transience of all things and the power of the photographer to immortalize experience with the click of the camera shutter. The exhibition celebrates the essential magic of the medium, which allows us to give pause in a world of rushing and inescapable impermanence.  Together, the disparate photographs and imagery of Passing Through form a journey with its own unique pace, one that mirrors the ebbs and flows of life’s seasons from the youthful rush of possibility through the expectations and trials of middle age and beyond. It is a trip by car across the American landscape, a bicycle excursion through the city, a waltz across a romantically lit room, the shifting sky-scape with ever-changing clouds, an unexpected and devastating automobile crash. The physical world traversed and inhabited by the artists in the exhibition echoes the topography of our internal worlds in that both are subject to the great equalizer of time over which we can never exert power.  To hold onto what invariably slips past, and give undeniable presence to a subject even as it begins to fade, is the photographer’s attempt to counter the fundamental dissolution of existence, out of which the most profound beauty, loss and aspirations materialize.