Masters of Photography: Dorothea Lange

Hello Photoion students and photography fans, today we’ve got another entry in our masters of photography series for you. This series looks at the life and work of some of the 20th century’s most important photographers.

Today we are taking a look at the work of American photographer, Dorothea Lange.

Lange was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895 to a family of German immigrants. After her father abandoned her family, she changed her last name to Lange, her mother’s maiden name. At the age of seven, Lange was diagnosed with Polio which left her with muscle damage and a permanent limp. Later in life, Lange would go on to say that her Polio helped to “form” her as a person.

(c) Dorothea Lange

(c) Dorothea Lange

Before Lange ever stepped behind the lens, she knew that she wanted to become a Photographer. After graduating High School, she studied photography at New York’s Columbia University. During her time in university, she was taught by the famous photographer Clarence Hudson White.

However, Lange’s style soon moved away from portraiture of the elite to documenting the everyday life of American’s on the street. Her first body of work caught the attention of the Resettlement Administration, who offered her a job documenting the administration’s efforts to relocate people across America.

(c) Dorothea Lange

(c) Dorothea Lange

It was during this time that Lange captured perhaps her most iconic image, Migrant Mother. Lange was capturing images for the Resettlement Administration in a resettlement camp in California.

While documenting conditions in the camp, Lange was drawn to the titular woman, Florence Owens Thompson, and began talking to her. Though she didn’t ask Thompson’s name at the time, Lange learned that Thompson and her family had been living on frozen vegetables and birds her children had killed.

(c) Dorothea Lange

(c) Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother

Lange gave her editor the images of the Migrant Mother when she returned to the RA offices and they were later included in the free newspapers distributed across the country.

The image and Thompson’s story prompted the government to take action and provide food relief to the camp.

Lange says she took several photos of Thompson, getting closer and closer with each shot to allow her a range of images to choose from, each offering a different view of the background camp. In the end, she settled on a tight shot