A camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.
I am a huge admirer of Dorothea Lange. I discovered her photographs when I was a graduate student in American Studies. It was love at first sight (pardon the pun). Her photographs reached into my heart and seemed to say, "this is what it is to be human." Lange is best known for her photographs of migratory workers taken during the Great Depression of the 1930s and for her photographs of Japanese Internment Camps taken during World War II. No matter what the circumstances, Lange allowed people their dignity. She saw how people responded to the most difficult situations and still retain their humanity and she documented that. Her photographs inspire me; they show the resiliency of the human spirit.
Dorothea Lange was born on May 26, 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Which is why I'm writing this post now. I missed her birthday, but it's still May.) Lange began her career as a studio photographer in San Francisco, California in 1918. She began working for the American government documenting the Depression in the 1930s, and became, along with Walker Evans, one of the most famous of the Farm Security Administration photographers. I particularly enjoyed reading this profile by young writer, Susannah Abbey, called My hero: Dorothea Lange.
Below are a few of my favorite Dorothea Lange photographs. I've tried to choose ones that are less well known than some of her iconic images. Less well known, yet no less beautiful. Another thing I love about Lange's photographs, is that she often records stories to go with her pictures, including word-for-word quotes from the people she meets along the roads, in migrant camps, and on tenant farms. The words beneath the photographs are her original captions.
Family between Dallas and Austin, Texas. . . . Penniless people. No food and three gallons of gas in the tank. The father is trying to repair a tire. Three children. Father says, "It's tough but life's tough anyway." (August 1936, Library of Congress)
Near Douglas, Georgia. "You don't have to worriate so much and you've got time to raise somp'n to eat." The program to eliminate the risk and uncertainty of a one-crop system meets the approval of this sharecropper. She sits on the porch and sorts tobacco. July, 1938 (Library of Congress)
Calipatria, Imperial Valley, California. Daughter of ex-tenant farmer. "Back in Oklahoma, we are sinking. You work your head off for a crop and then see it burn up. You live in debts you can never get out of. This isn't a good life, but I say that it's a better life than it was." (Library of Congress
Places to See Lange's Photographs