Collections

Skip navigation
Media File
Dorothea Lange
Date: American, 1895 - 1965
Biography:

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Dorothea Lange was training as a teacher when she decided to become a professional photographer in 1913. She worked at the studio of the Pictorialist photographer Arnold Genthe in 1914 and studied at the Clarence H. White School in 1917. Upon completing the White course, she moved to San Francisco, where she opened a portrait studio which she operated from 1919 to 1940. In 1929 she began to photograph people in the context of their daily lives, and thus made regular excursions into San Francisco's Depression-afflicted streets. Her photographs caught the attention of Paul Taylor, an economist at Berkeley; they married in 1935 and collaborated on the book An American Exodus in 1939. Between 1935 and 1939, Lange traveled extensively for the Farm Security Administration, for which she made many of her best-known photographs, including Migrant Mother. Lange received the first Guggenheim Fellowship awarded to a woman in 1941, and from 1942 to 1945 she worked for the U.S. government photographing such subjects such as the Japanese-American internment camps and the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco. In 1954 she joined the staff of LIFE magazine, and from 1958 to 1965, traveled to Asia, South America, and the Middle East as a freelance photographer. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1965, she devoted herself to preparing for a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, held posthumously in 1966.

Dorothea Lange is one of the nation's greatest documentary photographers. Her respectful empathy for people and her keen ability to communicate the essential elements of the situations she photographed endow her work with unforgettable power. Although best known for her FSA photographs, she produced other work, including the images of home and family life published in American Country Woman (1964).

Lisa Hostetler

Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 220.