With this month being women’s history month I saw fit to post about a great photographer who happened to be a woman.
“To know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own [preconception, which is] very limiting, and often false.” – Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange was a very compassionate woman who displayed a heart for people in her images. Spending most of her years photographing farmers relocated by the ravishing effects by the Great Depression. Lange was one of the twelve photographers in the organization called the Farm Security Association (F.S.A.) Best known for her image of the “Migrant Mother” she had a way of capturing the person’s soul in an image.
At a young age Dorothea knew what it meant to go through hardships, nevertheless it only seemed to make her stronger. At the age of seven Dorothea was diagnosed with the crippling disease of Polio which caused her left leg to become very weak. However, later in life it would become one her best teachers. “[It] was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” she said several years down the line. Though, Lange’s problems did not stop there. In her teen years she found out what it meant to live with parents that were divorced and she took on her mother’s maiden name because of her hatred towards her father. As grim as her life seemed, the light at the other end of the tunnel was art. Dorothea trained her camera to see how she saw things in front of the lens.
However, the Great Depression was an economic crisis that consumed the whole world after World War I. At this time many Americans were suffering along with the world. Much of America’s population was moving back to their home countries or just simply moving out of America. The government was changing its game plan while trying to revive America; President Franklin Roosevelt came up with an economic recovery plan called “New Deal.” This plan was put in place to relieve, recover and to reform America’s economics. Out of the New Deal plan came the F.S.A. (Farm Security Association) an organization put in place to help the agricultural community in America. A man by the name of Roy Stryker was in charge of the F.S.A. and was impressed with Dorothea’s work and decided to bring her on to photograph farmers that were trying to make it in America. With camera in hand Dorothea traversed over this great land of America documenting farmers that were displaced thanks to the depression. During this time Dorothea captured her most famous photograph, Migrant Mother.
Migrant Mother is an image that Lange captured on a hunch. On her way home from photographing migrant workers in California she decided to turn around because she didn’t capture what she needed. On the side of the road was a mother with her children camped out in a tent because their car had broken down and the father had gone to town to get the things needed to fix the car. Closer and closer Dorothea walked up to this family and when she captured the image that she knew that she needed she disappeared, as she was known to do. Within this image is a woman looking off into the distance almost as a philosophical symbol of the uncertainty of America’s future. With two children standing by their mother’s side as they hide their faces almost as to say that the future of America, these children, is so unclear that we can’t even see “their faces.”
During World War II Lange was hired by the Office of War Information on two occasions. Through the years she would grow frustrated as people grew more and more numb to the cries of humanity, but this frustration did not stop her. Later on in life Dorothea was pounded with the illnesses that overwhelmed her. However, she only grew stronger as she traveled the world with her husband and photographed what she saw. Unfortunately after 70 years of life Dorothea Lange succumbed to the harsh disease of cancer. Nonetheless, the legacy that was left behind by this great woman is one to not forget. In 1940 she was the first woman to be awarded the Guggenheim fellowship. Also she had the honor of contributing to Life magazine and co-finding “Aperture” a small publisher for high end photographic books. Dorothea Lange is a true definition of what it means to persevere, even against all odds.