Saturday, May 20, 2006

Photographer of the People

"You put your camera around your neck along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1895, Dorothea was the first child of Joan and Henry Nutzhorn, both second generation German-Americans; her brother, Martin, was born in 1901. Though her first seven years were likely happy, the following 12 were not. At age seven, Dorothea contracted polio, leaving her with a lifelong limp in her right leg; at age 12, her father, a successful lawyer, abandoned his family, never to be heard from again.

Migrant Mother, 1936

"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it." ~ Dorothea Lange (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

Drought Refugees Hoping for Cotton Work, Blythe, Ca 1936

The insightful and compassionate photographs of Dorothea Lange has exerted a profound influence on the development of modern documentary photography. Lange's concern for people, her appreciation of the ordinary, and the striking empathy she showed for her subjects make her unique among photographers of her day.

Critics and curators, family and friends agree that it was the heart of Dorothea Lange that guided the focus of her camera lens and composition of images. Whether viewing a single image or the thousands that comprise a lifetime's work, one sees that Lange called upon the sheer power of her considerable will to force the medium of photography to obey and respond to the world that surrounded her. Whether this world was the San Joaquin Valley or the Mississippi Delta, the small communities of America's farm belt or countryside of Ireland; the villages of Southeast Asia or the streets of San Francisco, she saw people that needed --- and deserved --- attention. Dorothea Lange responded by documenting their existence for others to see. This she did because she believed passionately that those who were pushed to the margins, whose existence had no color, needed to be heard, as well as seen. This commitment to the colorless and voiceless came from within. Dorothea Lange's public life as a "Photographer of the People".

On October 11, 1965 Lange died in San Francisco at the age of seventy.

Recommended Reading List:

An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion by Dorothea Lange, Paul Schuster Taylor, Paul Taylor

Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Interment by Dorothea Lange

Photographing the 2nd Gold Rush: Dorothea Lange and the East Bay at War, 1941, by Dorothea Lange, Charles Wollenberg

N Posted by Rain at 5/20/2006 12:59:00 AM


  • Anonymous Anonymous posted at 11:46 AM  
    Hey girlfriend...Are these the same photos that are in your mothers album?
    OMG! Remember Trish's the museum??? Until I hit the link I had completely forgotten...yummy california surfers!
    P.S Call me when you get home on Monday!
  • Blogger Tim posted at 12:13 PM  
    that photo of the general store seems to me to be the direct inspiration of the scene in the American Adventure in Epcot (Walt Disney World). I found it very interesting and a pleasant surprise. Nice job.

  • Blogger jules posted at 12:27 PM  
    I've always loved photos that are of REAL people...not the Hollywood glamorization of people. People who work hard, live life and deal with all the crap involved with it.
    Thanks for the kind words on my blog. I appreciate it.
  • Blogger Sheila posted at 3:32 AM  
    I am very familiar with these photos as my first boyfriend in art school was in love with Dorothea Lange's work (actually that was the best thing about him), anyway I believe that she stands up as one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century. She shows how multi-layered the struggle in life is. I have stared at 'Migrant Mother' for many hours and wondered about her.
  • Blogger Rain posted at 1:28 AM  
    Tim~ I think you may be right...what a neat discovery! Thank you for stopping by!

    Jules~ I feel the same way about the photos. Please feel free to contact me anytime. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Sheila~ I found Dorothea's quote about the "Migrant Mother" in one of my mothers boxes. She felt a closeness with her because my mother like Dorothea was a survior of Polio. Sadly my mothers younger brother died from Polio.

    Candy, I just want you to know that I am so glad you are my friend. How long have I known you?
    Thirty five years? Oh wait...we are not that old are we? snicker and grins! =)

    Have a safe and happy week everyone! ~Rain
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