Biography | Bibliography
Lange is best known for her documentary photographs, particularly of the Depression in 1930s America. Encouraged by Arnold Genthe to become a photographer, she studied in New York City with Clarence H. White at Columbia University, and in 1919 opened a portrait studio in San Francisco.
By the 1930s, however, she had become dissatisfied with the limitations of commercial portraiture, and she started to photograph on San Francisco streets. Drawn to the poor and the unemployed, who were suffering from the collapse of the nation’s economy, she began to notice and photograph how people’s lives and feelings were translated into body gesture.
As a result of her street work she was hired by Paul S. Taylor to photograph migratory workers for the California State Emergency Relief Administration. In 1935 she went to work for the U.S. Resettlement Administration (later renamed the Farm Security Administration) and produced photographs in every part of the country except New England. Lange was sensitive to the words people used as well as to their gestures and she recorded the comments of her subjects, particularly the migrants. Later, in An American Exodus, these quotes were innovatively combined with the pictures.
Lange’s work from the 1930’s and after is characterized by empathy for her subjects and by her desire to photograph them exactly as she saw them. On her darkroom door she posted the following statement by Francis Bacon: “The contemplation of things as they are / Without error or confusion / Without substitution or imposture / Is in itself a nobler thing / Than a whole harvest of invention.” 1
1From Lee D. Witkin, and Barbara London, Selected Photographers: A Collector’s Compendium, The Photograph Collector’s Guide, Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979, 178.
Pierre Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
Robert Coles, Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime, New York: Aperture, 1982.
Keith F. Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.
Mark Durden, Dorothea Lange 55, New York: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001.
Linda Gordon, Gary Y. Okihiro, Impounded; Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.