Dorothea Lange (American, May 26, 1895–October 11, 1965) was a documentary photographer best known for her work capturing images from Depression-era America for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange was born in Hoboken, NJ, to second-generation German immigrants. Lange cited two events from her childhood as shaping both her worldview and career: her abandonment by her father at the age of 12 and her contraction of polio, which caused her to walk with a limp for the remainder of her life.

Lange received formal training in photography at Columbia University under the tutelage of famed photographer Clarence H. White (American, 1871–1925). She then moved to San Francisco in 1918 to open a photography studio. She married painter Maynard Dixon (American, 1875–1946) and had two children by 1929. In the early 1930s, Lange began to spend more time photographing unemployed and homeless people who were decimated by the Great Depression. This work attracted the attention of the Resettlement Administration, which later became the FSA. Lange's second husband, Paul Schuster Taylor, whom she married in December 1935 after divorcing Dixon, joined her in documenting rural poverty and the exploitation of farm workers. This work cast a spotlight on the plight of these downtrodden people and served as a touchstone for change in the country. Lange's photo, Migrant Mother, composed in 1936, is considered to be one of the preeminent works of the period. After being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1941, Lange shifted emphasis to the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans to relocation camps. Similar to her work during the Depression, these photographs captured the essence of an unstable period in American history; these pieces remain on display in the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley.

While serving on the faculty of the Fine Art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts, Lange's health began to deteriorate. She suffered from ulcers and post-polio syndrome, which left her ill for the remainder of her life. Lange died in San Francisco in 1965.

Timeline

1895
Born in Hoboken, NJ
1914–1917
Attended the New York Training School for Teachers
1919
Moved to San Francisco and established her own studio
1920–1930
Worked as a portrait photographer, usually for San Francisco's upper class
1932
Began shooting San Francisco's urban unemployed and labor unrest
1935
Became a staff photographer at the Federal Resettlement Administration (RA), later renamed the Farm Security Administration (FSA)
1940
Was hired by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics as the photographer for a series of community studies in California and Arizona
1940–1945
During WWII, photographed the internment of Japanese Americans for the War Relocation Authority, and the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, for the Office of War Information
1952
Co-founded the photographic magazine Aperture
1965
Died in San Francisco, CA

Exhibitions

2002–2003
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA (solo)
1966
Dorothea Lange, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (solo)
1962
The Bitter Years, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1955
Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY