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Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn was born in Hoboken, New Jersey to second-generation German immigrant parents Henry Martin and Joanna Lange Nutzborn on May 26, 1895. Her father was an attorney and her mother was a singer who sang for recitals and community events. When she was 7, young Dorothea contracted polio, which left her with a lifelong limp. She would later say of the experience, "It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me. I've never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it." She would experience another life-altering change at age 12, when her father suddenly abandoned the family. Never missing a beat, her mother relocated to New York's Lower East Side, took a job in a library, and changed her and her children's names back to her maiden name of Lange. Dorothea found the streets of New York City more fascinating than school, and was frequently truant so she could peruse its many museums and art galleries. After graduating from Wadleigh High School in 1913, she entered a teacher training academy to appease her mother, but decided to shift her career focus to photography and studied under Photo-Secessionist Clarence White.

For the next few years, Ms. Lange took photography classes at Columbia University, and served several apprenticeships, including one at celebrated portrait photographer Arnold Genthe's Fifth Avenue studio. By the age of 20, she was enjoying moderate success in her own right, and opened a portrait studio in San Francisco. In 1920, she married painter Maynard Dixon, with whom she had two sons - Daniel Rhoades, born in 1925, and John Eaglesfeather, born five years' later. The Great Depression affected every American living at the time in varying degrees, and Dorothea Lange was no exception. When she began noticing the growing number of unemployed homeless men aimlessly walking the San Francisco streets, she began photographing them, which won her a job with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration or FSA). The press soon dubbed her as the 'first' documentary photographer, a title Ms. Lange dismissed as "nonsense." Her most famous photograph are the moving images collectively entitled "Migrant Mother." For her efforts, she she received both critical praise and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

At the height of her Depression-era photography, Ms. Lange used a 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 Graflex fitted with a 7-1/2" focal length anastigmat lens and magazine film holders, and a Rolleiflex that she preferred in tighter spaces. While on a photo assignment, she met and fell in love with her collaborator, writer and University of California at Berkeley economics professor Paul Schuster Taylor. Ms. Lange promptly divorced her husband and married Mr. Taylor, with whom she lived and worked for the rest of her life. She was hired by the War Relocation Authority to document the evacuation and relocation of Japanese Americans, which affected her so deeply, she relinquished her Fellowship to concentrate on this controversial practice later featured in the 1972 book, Executive Order 9066. She co-founded the photographic publication Aperture, for which she was a frequent contributor, and spent her later years teaching at the California School of Fine Arts. Seventy-year-old Dorothea Lange died of esophageal cancer in San Francisco on October 11, 1965. In 2008, then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger inducted Ms. Lange into the California Hall of Fame for her fine arts contributions and the increased social awareness her poignant photographs of human suffering continue to arouse.


Ref:
2009 Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.), p. 429.

2000 Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life by Milton Meltzer (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press), pp. 6, 70.

2013 The Elements of Photography: Understanding and Creating Sophisticated Images by Angela Faris Belt (Burlington, MA: Focal Press), p. 212.

2000 Encyclopedia of Women's History in America, 2nd ed. (New York: Facts On File, Inc.), p. 139.

2013 The Historian's Lens (URL: http://historianslens.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/a-biography-worthy-of-its-subject-linda-gordons-dorothea-lange).

2004 The Thirties by Mary Ellen Sterling (Westminster, CA: Teacher Created Resources, Inc.), p. 36.

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