Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was a significant natural documentary photographer as well as a photojournalist in the U.S, particularly famous for Depression-era as well as Farm Security Administration (Cole 1). Her photos were especially touching on the effects of the period of the Great Depression. Her work has gone a long way in influencing documentary photography.

Having schooled at the New York, she became apprenticed in various photography studios in the city such as Arnold Genthe. By the year 1918, Lange had gone to San Francisco where she established as portrait studio (Cole 23).

During the Great Depression, Lange drifted her attention from the confinements of the studio into the streets. This is where she started researching on unemployment and homelessness, which triggered the consideration of local photographers resulting to her to secure a job with the federal agency, Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1935. Her remarried husband Paul Schuster Taylor, who was an economic professor at the University of California, Berkeley proved very important in building her career. He taught her on political as well as social aspects, which resulted to them documenting impoverishment in the rural areas, labor migration and exploitation of sharecroppers (Lange & Schuster 65). This was documentation about troubled exodus of mostly, women laborers, which highlighted on the attention of the poor who had been neglected by the society through her poignant photographs that attracted the public attention.

Her 1933 White Angel Breadline reflected Aesthetic Realism and contributed to Lange’s popularity, being one of her most renowned photos. It reflected great beauty, and a powerful message of the needs of people in the course of life. A rich widow, Lois Jordan dubbed White Angel, depicted in the photo started a soup kitchen so as to provide food for the impoverished people (Partridge 45). Another of her most touching photograph is that of the Migrant mother, which made a great impact revealing the plight of the migrant laborers. The Migrant mother was one of the photos taken in 1936, at the peak of the Great Depression, which made her famous (Meltzer 399).

In 1951, Lange attended the Photographic Seminar at Aspen, Colorado and Berkeley in 1952 where she explained her Family of Man exhibit to Edward Steichen. Among her great works since this time included Dorothea, 1953, Bad trouble over the weekend, 1964, Walking Wounded, Oakland, 1954, Spring in Berkeley, 1951, Rebecca Chambers, Sausalito, California, 1954, Terrified Horse, Berryessa Valley, 1956, The Oak Outside Dorothea’s Window, 1957, The Big Cat, Berryessa Valley, 1956, In the Doorway of Home, 1964, and Family Portrait, 1965  (Meltzer xiii).

Lange was honored in nineteen forty one with the Guggenheim Fellowship due to her excellent work in photography. Moreover, during assail at Pearl Harbor, Lange neglected the award and entered into recording the compulsory mass departure of Japanese-Americans to the armed relocation camps after the demand by President Franklin Roosevelt. The Japanese Internment was put in place by the US government in the year 1942 for the Japanese who resided along the pacific coast. These people were to be relocated in War Relocation Camps when the imperial Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. As a result, Roosevelt released the Executive Order 9066 which, Led to close to a hundred and twenty thousand Japanese to be moved away from their homes into the Internment camps, claimed to safeguard the welfare of the U.S citizens. During this time, Lange was working with the War Relocation Authority (WRA) (Meltzer 242). Here she covered the plight of the Japanese Americans in these camps especially the Manzanar camp. She photographed their children pledging allegiance to the national flag before their relocation to the camp, having been detained without being criminals or being allowed to appeal. The photos were impounded by the army claiming racial and civil rights, which affected her negatively.

She later joined the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) as faculty. In 1952, she initiated the Aperture, which is a photographic magazine and was later commissioned to documentary photograph for Life Magazine e.g. Three Mormon Towns (1954), and Death of a Valley (1960), which depicted on the demise of Monticello, California as well as the inhabitant’s dislocation though Putah Creek damming to form Lake Berryessa. However, the magazine failed to convey the work and so she did it on the Aperture. Until 1972, her work had gone unnoticed but in this year, the Whitney Museum took her twenty seven photos to exhibition dubbed Executive Order 9066, which portrayed the Japanese internment in the Second World War.

Her health however, deteriorated due to gastric disorders such as bleeding ulcers (Meltzer 242) and post-polio syndrome but died of esophageal cancer in 1965, just when she was awarded by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1966.  On 28th may, 2008 Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California governor together with Maria Shriver, The First Lady declared her initiation in the California hall of Fame, in The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in a ceremony held on 15th December where Lange’s son received the award. Besides, National Women’s Hall of Fame initiated in 1969 recognizes women who have made major impact in the U.S. In the year 2003, Dorothea Lange was inducted as a documentary photographer, who involved political and social experiences in her work (Partridge 36).

Lange’s work incorporated aesthetic as well as humanistic approaches, which have been neglected by the 1980 and 1990 documentary photographers. As a result, the social implications of her work have been echoed by various authors as, Robert Coles on his 1982 essay, Karin Ohrn 1983, James Curtis 1989, James Guimond 1991, Beverly Brannan 1988, Maren Stange 1989 Elizabeth Partridge 1994 among others (Meltzer xx). She has also been celebrated in various exhibitions in the U.S and abroad. This has involved main retrospection in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1994. Moreover, the Exhibition Catalogue gives a new perspective on the memoirs as well as social context of appreciating her work. All these works allows interested individuals to understand the photographer in relation to public service and personal perceptions. Besides they help in ensuring her persistence even after several decades since her death (Meltzer xx). Museum of Modern Art continues to exhibit her photographs, which has gone a long way in aiding female students to become interested in the field.

In conclusion, Dorothea Lange can be termed as a female photographer of all times who related documentary and photojournalist genres. She documented the shift on the home-front for ethnic groups and laborers, devastated by the WWII. She was there to document the various changes that America was undergoing through. Her photographic work reveals compassion and intellect as well as deep empathy for the subjects. She nevertheless did not term herself as being an artist, but lived a visual life in a field considered to be men’s thus, was sensitive to women s needs


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