Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange (born Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn; May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.[1]

In the depths of the worldwide Depression, 1933, some fourteen million people in the U.S. were out of work; many were homeless, drifting aimlessly, often without enough food to eat. In the midwest and southwest drought and dust storms added to the economic havoc. During the decade of the 1930s some 300,000 men, women, and children migrated west to California, hoping to find work. Broadly, these migrant families were called by the opprobrium “Okies” (as from Oklahoma) regardless of where they came from. They traveled in old, dilapidated cars or trucks, wandering from place to place to follow the crops. Lange began to photograph these luckless folk, leaving her studio to document their lives in the streets and roads of California. She roamed the byways with her camera, portraying the extent of the social and economic upheaval of the Depression. It is here that Lange found her purpose and direction as a photographer. She was no longer a portraitist; but neither was she a photojournalist. Instead, she became known as one of the first of a new kind, a “documentary” photographer.[16]

Words & Pictures:

Dorthea Lange: Words and Pictures via MoMa
Lange, Dorothea. Migrant Mother. Description of artwork. Year, Institution Name, City. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One of Lange’s most recognized works is Migrant Mother, published in 1936.[18] The woman in the photograph is Florence Owens Thompson. In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience taking the photograph:

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. 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 thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”

Dorothea Lange (June 1960).
 “The Assignment I’ll Never Forget” (PDF). Popular Photography46 (2). pp. 42–43, 126.

“Dorothea Lange.” Wikipedia, Accessed 6 Nov. 2021.

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