Dorothea Lange – American Documentary Photographer and Photojournalist


“The camera is an instrument that teaches
people how to see without a camera.” Hello photography fans! It’s Martin from
All About Street Photography channel and today I would like to talk about an
American photographer and photojournalist Dorothea Lange. An amazing
photographer we have so much to learn from. So let’s
get started! Dorothea was born in 1895 in New Jersey to
second-generation German immigrants. Her name actually was actually Dorothea Margaretta
Nutzhorn but after her father left the family without any explanations
Dorothea’s mother changed the family name back to her maiden name of Lange.
As a child she suffered a polio which left her with partially paralyzed leg. She
later admitted it affected her in
everything she did. It formed me guided
me instructed me helped me and humiliated me.
I’ve never gotten over it and I’m aware of the force and power of it. Even though
she never owned or even used a camera she decided she would pursue photography
career. She attended photography classes at Columbia University and also learned
photography in several photography studios in New York. She learned the
developing of negatives, printing and
retouching there. In 1918 she decided to
travel around the world with her friend. However, they were robbed during the trip and
she ended up in San Francisco. Thanks to her experience she was able to
find a job in a local (photo) lab retouching
portraits. It was actually thanks to this
job she found an investor for her portrait studio where she spent next 15
years. But the Great Depression in 30s made her leave her job to
document the effects of the crisis such as homeless and unemployed people
standing in line for a bread. It was at that time when Lange took one of her most
famous photo The White (bread line) but wasn’t actually the first time she did
something like this. During her high school years she was actually attracted
to the Lower East Side and she would
sometimes skip classes and walk around
the poor neighborhoods and slums in New York. with her friend. Now, back to her
Great Depression photography. Because of that she was hired by Resettlement
Administration later called the Farm Security Administration or FSA. That was
created to relocate the families that were struggling during
times of the Great Depression to government’s land and to try to help
people who were hit hardest by the crisis. She was hurt by the government to
document the workers and the conditions they worked in. The project was supposed
to bring the political support for government’s aid. She documented the
poverty of seasonal migrant workers. with her second husband Paul Tyler who
collected data and interviewed the workers for California Emergency Relief
Administration. During the time length took her most well-known photo the Migrant Mother. Who I will be talking about next week. Together with her husband they
wrote a book about migrants called An American Exodus. Even though the images
were taken for documentary purposes I
think her photographs often reflect her
feelings. One technique or style we can see
recurring in her photographs is the point of view she shot the photos from.
Often times she shot from a lower point
of view than those who she photographed.
This was perhaps because she didn’t want the viewers to be looking down on the
people who she sympathized with. When we look at her photographs we can see they often also include the stories behind the pictures and the captions. It was
something her husband Taylor taught her to do. After photographing she would write
down everything from the conversations including quotes. They believed the story
was as much important as the photographs. I think it is actually very important in
photography because without context we wouldn’t be able to understand the
photos and what impact they had. During the war she documented the internment of
japanese-americans. Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order to send anyone
who can be seen as potential threat to the internment camps. Any person with at
least one sixty-fourth Japanese ancestry was sent to the camps. Even though no
such relocation was required for German or Italian Americans. She photographed
families who were forced to leave their homes and even visited the the Manzanar War Relocation Center and camps in Sierra Nevada mountains. The images were
actually not published during the war as they were very critical of the army. Her
photographs of the internment camps are now part of National Archives. You can
also see them in the book Impounded: Dorthea Lange and Censored Images of
Japanese American Internment. As I said it’s very important to know the context
of the photos you are looking at. Many of the photos looks kind of ironic, like
those kids doing the pledge of the allegiance holding the American flag. The
very same country that later put them into the camps. Which you wouldn’t
actually know without the historic background. After the war she was invited
to the fine art photography department California School of Fine Arts by Ansel
Adams and in 1952 she co-founded the Aperture magazine. Another interesting
project was The Death of the Valley. Project focusing on Monticello. A small
town that were sacrificed to create a dam for California need of water. Lange
together with Pirkle Jones created a photo essay documenting the town and the valley before the Monticello dam was built. Even though Lange sold the photo essay. to the Life magazine they eventually
decided not to publish it. Lange later decided to devote an entire
issue of Aperture to the work. Lange died at the age of 70 in 1965 in
San Francisco. Three months after her death Museum of Modern Art in New York
held a retrospective of her work. Which she actually helped to curate before she
died. In 2006 an elementary school was named
for her in Nipomo California and in 2008 she was inducted into the California
Hall of Fame. I think she was an amazing photographer we have so much to learn
from. Thanks to her people could and still can see what was going on during
certain important events in history. that’s it for this video I hope you
learned something new if you like this video feel free to give it a like thank
you for watching and I will see you next time.

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6 thoughts on “Dorothea Lange – American Documentary Photographer and Photojournalist

  1. One of the best photographers who is largely unappreciated when you start looking at her work, great upload.

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