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Dorothea Lange

Text from 20th Century Photography

"Hands off! I do not molest what I photograph, I do not meddle and I do not arrange." That was one of the principles of American photographer Dorothea Lange, whose work has provided one of the most committed social documentaries of photography in our century.

Following her studies at Columbia University in New York under Clarence H. White between 1917 and 1919, Dorothea Lange started out as an independent portrait photographer in San Francisco. Shocked by the number of homeless people in search of work during the Great Depression, she decided to take pictures of people in the street to draw attention to their plight. In 1935 she joined the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and reported on living conditions in the rural areas of the USA. In an unflinchingly direct manner she documented the bitter poverty of migrant workers and their families. Dorothea Lange's pictures not only showed the hopelessness and despair, but also the pride and dignity with which people endured their circumstances. One of the most famous and most frequently published photographs of the FSA project is Migrant Mother, the portrait of a Californian migrant worker with her three children. The face of the young woman is marked by wrinkles, the gaze full of worry directed in the distance. To the right and left the two older children, seeking protection, lean against her shoulders, hiding their faces from the camera, while the small baby has fallen asleep on its mother's lap. This highly concentrated, tightly composed image has made Dorothea Lange an icon of socially committed photography.


 


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