Home Magazine The History of Reportage together with Dorothea Lange

While in the USA and Europe, at the beginning of 20th Century, photography was still looking for its independence from other traditional media, some artists decided to deepen more the new possibilities of this artistic tool. Among the different application of this new media, photo reportage was surely one of the most important and recognized by the critics. In the city of New York, thanks to such masters as Alfred Stieglitz, photography started its own path into the history of art  and because of that, today we'll better analyze the life and work of the photographer Dorothea Lange, not only a pioneer in the photography field but also in the long path of professional recognition for all the women artist

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Dorothea Lange was born in 1895 in Hobeken (New Jersey) and finished her wonderful career in San Francisco in 1965 having opened there her first studio in 1918. Her family had German origins and her birth name was Margaretta Nutzhorn, however, she decided to call herself Dorothea Lange, by taking her mother's surname. At the age of only 7 she had a poliomyelitis, a disease that permanently compromised her right leg. As a strong woman with a natural inclination for photography, she started her studies in New York with Clarence White, and she worked for different atelier in the Big Apple. 

Lange is remembered as one of the most important personalities of straight photography genre, what we now could associate with the present documentary photography. Having completed her first photographic exhibition across the world in 1918, Dorothea Lange decided to travel around the United States during the Great Depression, which sought to rehabilitate rural America and to fight rural poverty. 


Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936. 


When the RA was formed in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, its aim was to create refugee camps in California for migrants coming from Midwest states plagued by drought and dust storms. At the time, many California Residents resisted the initiative, and as part of this department's photography program, Lange was one of eleven photographers - including Walker Evens and Gordon Parks - whose documentary work was used to raise awareness and appeal to the sympathies of the public for the government's economic relief programs. In its various offices and branches, the US government's documentary photography programs amassed a pictorial record consisting of over 175,000 images from 1935-1943. 


Dorothea Lange. Spring in Berkeley. 1952. Gelatin silver print. 7 1/2 x 9 7/16" (19 x 24 cm).
Gift of the photographer. 525.1973. Courtesy MoMA


Dorothea Lange, Mississippi Delta Negro Children, 1936.


For some years Lange worked alongside her husband, Paul Schuster Taylor, an economist at the University of California Berkeley, who interviewed the migrant families. Lange's most iconic photography ''Migrant Mother'' dates back to 1936, when she stopped at a temporary encampment of pea pickers in Nipomo, California, and captured a striking image of a destitute woman pictured with two children turned away from the camera. In her encounter, Lange gathered a few vague details - the family had been living on frozen vegetables and birds that the children killed - but the identity of the woman, Florence Owens Thompson, was discovered only forty years later. By the point, the image had been immortalized as an emblem of the role of photography in depicting the individual stories within larger humanitarian crises.  

Cover image: Resettlement Administration photographer in California. Library of Congress, Print & Photography Division. FSA/OWI Collection 


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