Life and Works of Dorothea Lange

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Dorothea Lange is most often remembered for her black and white photographs that depicted the suffering of the “common man” during the American Great Depression of the 1930’s. She is also remembered for her photographs of Japanese-Americans interned during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration during World War II.

Lange was born in Hoboken, NJ in 1895 to German-American parents. At the age of seven, she contracted polio, which left her with a limp for the rest of her life. Her father abandoned the family when she was 12. When this happened, her mother moved the family to New York City in order to find work. Lange attended school in a neighborhood that was dominated by Jewish immigrants.

Never an extremely sociable person, biographers write that Lange always considered herself an outsider, never quite fitting in among her childhood neighbors, and making very few friends in school.

These early influences may have had positive consequences in terms of her future career as a photographer. She developed a strong self-will and an appreciation of the everyday images of New York’s busy neighborhoods. She decided that she wanted to become a photographer at the age of 18.

Lange was a self-taught photographer. She learned her craft through apprenticeships with various photographers and portrait studios in New York. When she considered herself fully trained two years later, she moved to San Francisco, CA. She opened her own portrait studio there in 1919 and continued to improve upon her skills as a portrait photographer. She met her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon, at that time.

Lange’s marriage to Dixon lasted 15 years and produced two children. It is said that Dixon was the most significant influence on Lange’s photography during those years and that he influenced her professional development as a documentary photographer.

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