Dorothea Lange

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If there is anyone who can be credited, in the early eras, for having used photography to tell true stories of pain, trauma, poverty and misery, it is Dorothea Lange. Educated in photography in Columbia University, Dorothea’s lineage includes the likes of Clarence H White and Arnold Genthe. She travelled the world for a bit until she was robbed in San Francisco, where she settled down. Originally a studio photographer, the Great Depression got Dorothea Lange out of the studio and onto the streets, to capture one of the worst episodes in the history of human existence.

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Among her repertoire, the White Angel Breadline, showing the picture of a poor man who was turned away from the crowd before a soup kitchen that was run by a widow called White Angel, and Migrant Mother, which depicted a widowed mother of seven suffering from tuberculosis, are most famous. Her work created the impact it needed: waking people up to the reality of poverty and the crushing hunger that crippled communities as a whole. Dorothea went onto document rural poverty, exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant labourers, alongside Paul Schuster Taylor – who did the verbal documentation side of the work.

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Later, Dorothea got the Guggenheim Fellowship for achievement in photography. But, after Pearl Harbour, she gave up the fellowship to record images of the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, as part of an assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA). While there, she also covered the internment of Japanese Americans and their incarceration, while all the while, travelling the length and breadth of urban and rural California.

In 1945, Dorothea Lange was invited by Ansel Adams to accept a position as a member of the faculty at the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), and in 1952, she co-founded the photographic magazine Aperture. In the last two decades of her life, Dorothea had deteriorating health – right from gastric issues to bleeding ulcers and post-polio syndrome, all of which claimed her life towards the end. Dorothea Lange left behind a tremendous legacy through her work: especially seeing as how she redefined the narratives underlying photojournalism, and brought out truths that would otherwise have been lost under piles and piles of statistical data.

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