Anne Darling Photography

The Photographs of Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

The photographs of Dorothea Lange made her one of the most famous photographers of all time, particularly the series of pictures of Florence Thompson which included her most famous work, Migrant Mother.

Although Lange started as an independent portrait photographer in San Francisco, she was shocked by seeing so many homeless people who were looking for work that she began to make pictures of people in the street in the hope that highlighting the problem through her work would lead to change.

Lange then joined the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1935 and documented migrant workers and their families in rural areas of the US.

photograph of poor women with children during the great depression
Poor mother and children during the Great Depression

Her photographs documented the living conditions in the rural areas of America during the Great Depression. In her work she shows the hopelessness and despair of migrant workers and their families but also their pride and dignity and ability to endure the most trying of circumstances. Her most famous photograph is Migrant Mother showing Florence Thompson with three of her children. Two of the photos from that same series can be seen below. To read more about Migrant Mother, click the link.

florence thompson photograph by dorothea lange
Florence Thompson, age thirty-two, mother of seven children, Nipomo, California migrant agricultural workers family photograph by dorothea lange
Migrant agricultural worker's family (destitute pea pickers in California)

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were relocated into armed camps and the War Relocation Authority employed Lange to make photographs of Japanese neighbourhoods, processing centres and the camps themselves as can be seen in the next photograph of the barrack homes at Manzanar War Relocation Authority Center for evacuees of Japanese ancestry where a hot windstorm brings dust from the surrounding desert.

manzanar relocation camp photograph by dorothea lange
Manzanar Flag

Below is one of Lange's photograph of first-graders, some of Japanese ancestry, at the Weill public school in San Francisco, pledging allegience to the United States flag.

photograph by dorothea lange of japanese-american children pledging allegiance
Japanese-American Children Pledging Allegiance, 1942

One of my favourite photographs of Lange's is the next one which shows a large sign which reads "I am an American", placed in the window of a store on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, was relocated along with other evacuees in a War Relocation Authority centre for the duration of the war.

sign outside a japanese-american grocers shop photograph by dorothea lange
Japanese-American Grocer, 1942

Lange was disturbed by the issues her work raised and captured physical evidence of the indignities she came across in her pictures.A.D. Coleman, the New York Times referred to Lange's photographs as "documents of such a high order that they convey the feelings of the victims as well as the facts of the crime". It's not entirely surprising therefore, that many of the photographs of Dorothea Lange were censored by the Federal Government.

children in Merrill Farm FSA relocation camp photograph of dorothea lange
Lighthearted kids in Merrill Farm security administration mobile camp for migratory farm labor, Klamath County, Oregon, 1939 photograph of dorothea lange
Lange seated on a Ford Model V8 (also known as a "Model 68") holding a Graflex 4x5 Series D camera: Photo by Rondale Partridge for the FSA

The Library of Congress is running a permanent online exhibition entitled Women Come to the Front which includes a section on Lange's work. There is also the chance to see work by other female journalists, photographers and broadcasters who worked during World War II including Toni Frissell and Esther Bubley. Cick the link to go to the exhibition page to see more of the photographs of Dorothea Lange or click here to read about Lange's Migrant Mother photograph.

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