Dorothea Lange and The Influence of Her Photography

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1176 words

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Most likely, you’ve heard of Pablo Picasso, Barbra Streisand, and Marilyn Monroe, all very famous artists in many different ways. Dorothea Lange is someone who went down in history as another artist, one who caught the eyes of many through her love and passion for photography. Lange was a dedicated photographer who captured the misfortunes and stresses of living through a substantial time in our nation’s history, taking pictures that brought attention to the struggling. During the Great Depression, she took action and launched her career. She lived an unpredictable life and it began in a rocky childhood. She left behind a meaningful legacy and many reasons to honor her and her work. Photography during the Great Depression turned out to be a critical tool in understanding how our country survived such an economic crisis. In the 1930’s, photography was thought of as nothing more than an art, a meaningless hobby.

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But, when Dorothea Lange and ten other photographers were asked to photograph the Dust Bowl and record the tragedies, the perception of photography was changed. These photographers helped change the attitude towards photography and established a substantial movement in how photography was viewed and how much it was cared about. The photographers’ mission was to record the poverty-stricken people of the West. Dorothea, one of the photographers, the most famous picture was taken on her way home after a long day. She passed a sign reading “Pea-Pickers Camp” and something was nagging at her for the twenty miles after. Finally, Dorothea turned around, drove back, and found what she was after; Florence Owens Thompson. At the time, Florence was a mother of seven living in a lean-to tent, barely surviving off frozen crops and small birds killed by her children.
In the February 1960’s article of Popular Photography Dorothea stated, “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 a 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.” The equipment and time used to capture a moment were not nearly as simple as today, nonetheless, Lange took 5 shots of the woman and her children. Most of them were focused on the worn features of the mother and the scared, hidden faces of the children. Without these ambitious and brave photographers, we would never know what people had to go through to survive the worst economic crash in our history. Lange turned out to become an iconic figure, but her childhood started out similar to her peers. Dorothea was born to Heinrich Nutzhorn and Johanna Lange on May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey. She had a younger brother named Martin. Lange and her brother lived a very comfortable lifestyle. They went to a small private school and after school, they visited the library where their mother worked. A great photographer often has the quality of keeping attention away from themselves. Dorothea obtained this trait visiting her mother at her job at a library in their small New Jersey town. She spent many afternoons there, wandering through the stacks and gazing on the pages of the books, in the photographs and pictures.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck her and her family twice as a child. When she was twelve, her father, a lawyer, left her family suddenly. After the incident, Dorothea dropped her father’s name and took her mother’s maiden name. Dorothea was so hurt by her father’s actions that she couldn’t say his name until she was in her sixties. At the age of seven, five years prior to her dad leaving, Lange got polio. It depleted her right leg and left her with a limp. “It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me,” Dorothea stated. Where and how Dorothea grew up weighted her decisions about her life. Dorothea’s ambition and drive led her to start her career early. After high school in 1913, Dorothea left Hoboken to travel the world and take pictures. For almost five years, photography kept her abroad and brought money. But, in 1918, the money ran out in San Francisco. Desperate for a job, Dorothea took a position under Clarence H. White, who mentored her as a photographer. In San Francisco, she boarded with migrant workers and often took pictures of them, captioning the pictures with their quotes. Also, while living in “The Golden City”, Dorothea noticed all the struggling people on the streets. This prompted her to take pictures of the unemployed and bring the issue of the inflation of people without jobs to the public’s attention. Soon after in 1920, Dorothea married Maynard Dixon, an artist focused on the West and its progress. While married to Dixon, Dorothea had two sons, Daniel and John. Through all of these opportunities, Dorothea had her first exhibition in 1934, solidifying her career and status as a photojournalist.

After working with Paul Schuster Taylor on a project, they fell in love and both decided to divorce their spouses. They got married in 1935, brought their families together, and moved to California. After four years of marriage, in 1939, Dorothea published her first book filled with pictures and in 1955 she had her first Museum of Modern Art exhibit. Dorothea accomplished a lot due to how passionate she was about her work. Dorothea spent time doing things that made her happy. The last ten years of her life were filled with traveling, people, and of course, many pictures. In the year leading up to her death, Dorothea started working on a retrospective exhibit of her work. It was set for 1966, but unfortunately, Dorothea passed away before it’s opening. Dorothea had been suffering from esophageal cancer and post-polio syndrome for the last twenty years of her life and she died on October 11, 1965, in San Francisco. She was survived by her second husband Paul Taylor, her two children, and 3 stepchildren. Her exhibition was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art 3 months after her passing. In 2003 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2006, an elementary school in California was named after her where she took her famous picture “Migrant Mother.” She was initiated into the California Hall of Fame in 2008 where her son Daniel accepted the honor in her place.

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Even after her passing, Dorothea still had a positive impact on the world. Dorothea’s grit throughout her childhood and early life led her to choose a career where she could do something meaningful and challenging. She left behind a legacy that would keep the love and passion for photography alive. Lange dedicated herself to a lifetime of work, going down in history for her skill in capturing the emotions through the tasks at hand.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Dorothea Lange And The Influence Of Her Photography. (2018, October 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from
“Dorothea Lange And The Influence Of Her Photography.” GradesFixer, 17 Oct. 2018,
Dorothea Lange And The Influence Of Her Photography. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Oct. 2023].
Dorothea Lange And The Influence Of Her Photography [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 17 [cited 2023 Oct 2]. Available from:
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