Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965
After studying photography at Columbia University, New Jersey native Dorothea Lange set off on a trip around the globe. Robbed of her funds in San Francisco in 1918, she made the city her home and began work as a photographic finisher, and a portrait photographer of San Francisco’s elite. As the Great Depression altered the social landscape, Lange shifted her focus to capture life outside of the studio. She and future husband Paul Taylor recognized her talent for capturing the emerging human despair. In 1935, Lange worked with the California State Emergency Relief Administration, then through the 1930s as a photographic documentarian with the Farm Security Administration, a federal agency raising aid and awareness of the farmers’ plight in the Depression and Dust Bowl. Lange traveled through California, the Southwest and South to document the hardships suffered by migrant farmers. During World War II, Lange documented the living conditions of Japanese Americans incarcerated by the War Relocation Authority, a policy she strongly opposed. Her empathy for her subjects and her ability to capture the “essential elements” of the scenes around them gave her imagery power and emotion, making Lange one of America’s greatest documentary photographers.