“The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.”—Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was an American portrait photographer and photojournalist, best known for her work with the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. It is because of her iconic work that we have a ‘face’ to the plight of the people hardest hit by the times.
She was a studio photographer in San Francisco when the stock market fell. Around this time, she had an epiphany that she should photograph all sorts of people so she took to the streets to document the changing times. She eventually got the job with the FSA and her photos were the catalyst for changes in the camps in which she photographed. She is most well-known for the piece “Migrant Mother,” a haunting portrait of a beautiful but prematurely aging woman with her dirty and hungry children clinging to her shoulders.
Among other important projects, she photographed some of the Japanese Internment camps during WW2, and at the end of her life, she was given her own show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She was the first woman to stage a retrospective of her life’s work at the museum. Her photography has endured beyond her lifetime and greatly influenced generations of documentary photographers.
*Artist’s note: I decided to paint Dorothea at an older age because she went on to make a life of work for herself after the project that made her famous. She didn’t work for the FSA until she was in her forties and her career took off from there. She did most of her important work in the second half of her life.