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Dorothea Langue and Her Impact on American Hitory

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Dorothea Lange and her Impact on American History

When America experienced the Great Depression during the 1930’s, a large number of people struggled to survive each day. Countless men and women were unemployed, and therefore, had no means of providing for their families. The migrant workers of the west were hit the hardest, and their former lives of simplicity became a serious fight for existence. Many marvel at the thought of what it was like to live during this time period. During the Great Depression, many photographers captured the scenes of poverty and grief. Thanks to a very well known photographer; Dorothea Lange gave us countless of photographs that illustrated the Great Depression. Dorothea impacted society in a great way because she enlarged the popular understanding of who Americans were, drew attention on the poor and forgotten, and influenced political decisions.

On May 26, 1895, Dorothea was born in Hoboken, New Jersey ( She was the first child of Joan and Henry Nutzhorn who were both second generation German-Americans (Profile of Dorothea Lange). When she turned seven years old she was diagnosed with polio, and then at the age of 12 her father left her and her family (Davis, Page 6). So in order to help support the family her mother Joan took a job in New York Public Library on the Lower East Side of New York ( Dorothea attended an all-girls’ school called Wadleigh High School, and during her high school years, she did not have many friends. However, being a lone all the time helped her develop traits that made her a phenomenal photographer. So upon her high school graduation she decided that she wanted to become a photographer. Lange then studied photography at Columbia University in New York City under Clarence H. White, a member of the Photo-Secession group. In 1918 she decided to travel around the world, earning money as she went by selling her photographs. Her money ran out by the time she got to San Francisco, so she settled there and obtained a job in a photography studio (Britannica).

In California she operated her own portrait studio, and it was there, during the onset of the Depression that she began using her skills as a photographer to document the severe economic distress of the time. Even though she was very successful in her own studio, Lange said she felt obligated to turn her camera away from elite portraiture to the effects of the Depression on the city and its residents because “…I was driven by the fact that I was under personal turmoil to do something.” She soon abandoned her portrait studio to devote herself full-time to documenting the social crisis (Dorothea Lange’s Social Vision:Photography and the Great Depression).Years later she married Maynard Dixon and had two kids.

As the Great Depression continued on her photographs were gaining the attention from a man named Paul Taylor. (Americans Who Tell the Truth). In his work, he used photos to support his data. They soon collaborated their work as he interviewed people and she took pictures. Dorothea Lange soon divorced Dixon, and Taylor, who was also married, divorced his wife. They got married together on December 1935 and their relationship remained strong until Lange’s death (Americans Who Tell the Truth).

Dorothea Lange enlarged the understanding of who Americans were by providing democratic visual representation of the nation. Lange turned her camera lens from the studio to the street. Her studies of unemployed and homeless people captured the attention of local photographers and led to her employment with the federal Resettlement Administration which was later called the Farm Security Administration ( The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created as part of the New Deal to help combat rural poverty throughout America (Dorothea Lange’s Social Vision:Photography and the Great Depression). Using her interest in social and political areas to direct, capture and voice the plight of the victims, Lange’s photography would become the country’s eyes for this era.

In order to enlarge the understanding of these Americans, the government hired Dorothea to take pictures of the migrants’ living and working conditions (Patridge, Page 30). One of Dorothea Lange’s widely known photograph that documented the work and life of migrant workers is known as the “Migrant Mother”. The photograph was taken in the year of 1936 in Nipomo, California (Dorothea Lange American Photographer). The women in this photo is a migrant worker whose name is Florence Owens Thompson. Florence was a 32 year old Pea Picker. “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 32. She said 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... I knew that I had recorded the essence of my assignment." (Dorothea Lange). This photo represents her concern for her children, and the poor life that her and her family was going through, and symbolizes the strength of many migrant workers (

Another photograph that documents the poor living conditions was a picture that was took in San Joaquin Valley, California in 1936. This picture is known as “Ditched, Stalled and Stranded” (Dorothea Lange American Photographer). In this picture, Lange is able to capture a striking look of anxiety on the face of her subject. Stranded in his car, the man's plight suggests the larger problems that society faced during the Great Depression. To add to the feeling of claustrophobia, Lange purposely cropped the photograph into a tighter composition, which originally included a woman sitting in the passenger's seat. Rather than suggesting he pose, Lange has caught him as if unawares, an effect which persuades us all the more of the truth of the image (Dorothea Lange american Photographer).

Dorothea Lange also drew attention on the poor and forgotten by taken many photographs documenting the poor life that Americans lived through. Many of the citizens during the Great Depression were unable to get jobs because of the poor economy. Sense they were unable to get jobs, they could not pay for food and housing. They were known as forgotten because those who were rich never gave them any attention and help. Only those who were poor was able to help each other even though



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