Friday, February 23, 2024

6 Facts You Didn't Know about Dorothea Lange on Off the Wall Friday


Dorothy's Lange

This week finds me traveling to Washington DC to visit the National Gallery.  We love the National

Dorothea Lange, Formerly enslaved
woman, Alabama, 1938

Mall since we are kinda museum junkies.  But we haven't been back since 2019 due to the dreaded plague.  I keep an eye on the National Gallery's webpage and discovered that they are running a Dorothea Lange exhibit through March.  So Paul is indulging me with a quick trip down to see it as well as the Mark Rothko exhibit and Masters of American Furniture, the Kaufman Collection (see a little something for me....a little something for him).

Am I the only one who is totally in love with Dorothea Lange's work?  Lange was a photojournalist who is best known for her work of depression-era migrant farm laborers in California and the documentation of the Japanese Internment during World War II.  What I love about her work is that she had a way of capturing her subject's true selves and it's like you are there talking to them.  

Dorothea Lange, Migrant agricultural worker's family, Nipomo, California, February 1936

Dorothea Lange, Nettie Featherston, wife of a migratory laborer with three children, near Childress, Texas, June 1938

It's been a while so I thought it was time for another installment of "Facts You Didn't Know".

6 Facts You Didn't Know about Dorothea Lange

1.  She had polio as a child.  Due to her polio, it left her right leg with a limp.  She felt it, "formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me, and humiliated me."  She credits this life experience with shaping the rest of her life and how she saw other people. 

2.  She was married twice.  She married young to the famous artist Maynard Dixon who had his own prolific career as a painter.  The couple had two children.  After 15 years of marriage, Lange was recruited by  Paul Taylor to work on his research paper on the migrant farm workers of the Dust Bowl. He felt that her photographs would be a good pairing with the written word.  During this work, both divorced their spouses and married forming a long working partnership till her death in 1965.

3. She started her career as a celebrity photographer first in New York City and later in San Francisco.  Here she learned about lighting, atmosphere, and composition.  She also realized that to get the best photos, you needed to be in touch with your subjects.  With the onset of the Depression, her business was affected leading her to start photographing street people.

Dorothea Lange, Human Erosion in
California (Migrant Mother), 1936

4. She could not be hired as a photographer for the government,
but rather her title was stenographer.  Paul Taylor was given a grant through Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives.  With these monies, he was able to recruit Lange but the government wouldn't accept her as  "photographer" so instead she had to accept the title of "stenographer".

5. Her iconic photograph of Migrant Mother, Rose Thompson almost didn't happen.  Lange on the last day of the project, she was heading home when she passed the migrant encampment.  She traveled on for 20 more miles, before deciding to go back and photograph them.  She took 5 exposures.  Not only did the photograph become one of the most reproduced in the world, but once it was published in San Francisco, it raised $250,000 for the migrant workers crisis.

6.  Her work was censored.  In 1941, she deferred a prestigious fellowship, so she could document the Japanese internment camps.  Her work was so powerful, that the government seized the photos in hopes that they wouldn't persuade public opinion concerning the unconstitutional camps.  The photos were not publically shown till after the war in 1946.

Dorothea Lange, Grandfather and grandson of Japanese ancestry at a War
Relocation Authority center, Manzanar, California, July 1942

If you want more information concerning the life of Dorothea Lange, I can strongly recommend the YouTube documentary, Dorothea Lange - An American Odyssey

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1 comment:

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Lucky you that you can just pop down to the National Gallery! Very interesting article on Dorothea Lange; thank you!