Happy birthday to Dorothea Lange! Yes, today is her birthday and the final post in this series celebrating Lange and her work.
The first week, we discussed Dorothea Lange’s portrait photography work, followed by her FSA work documenting migrant agricultural workers and rural America after the Depression and Dust Bowl. Last week, was an overview of her work documenting the Japanese American Internment during World War II. So, now we are moving on to the latter part of Lange’s life.
During the last two decades of her life, Dorothea Lange experienced reoccurring health issues. Many of her health problems were lasting effects of polio, but, even though Lange was in poor health, she continued to work as much as her health would allow. Her accomplishments during this period include co-founding a publishing house that produced periodicals and high-end photography books (Aperture), photo assignments for Life magazine, traveling, and teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). During the better part of 1964-1965, Lange focused on curating a retrospective exhibit of her work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Months before the MoMA exhibit opened (January 1996), Dorothea Lange passed away from esophageal cancer on October 11, 1965.
In Linda Gordon’s book, Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, Gordon described an assignment that Lange gave her students at CSFA, which encouraged them to use photography to answer the question, “Where do I live?” If you have listened to any of Lange’s interviews or read much about her, you know she was not asking for a pedestrian answer, but rather asking the students to explore the answer on a deeper level. Apparently, one group of students challenged Lange to accept the same assignment – to photograph where SHE lived. From this challenge came the only self-portrait Lange made. However, just like the assignment, the self-portrait was not a typical self-portrait. The resulting images were of her foot which was affected by polio at age seven. Even though her foot was twisted as the result of polio, she did not seem to let it slow her down. She still managed to scale automobiles for a better photography vantage points, as evidenced by a few images of her. She was one of the most prolific photographers in the FSA, and her images were usually the most popular with the public. I chose this Dorothea Lange quote because she certainly seemed to employ this model in her own work. She used her photography as a vehicle to affect change by shedding light on current topics and events. Did her “model” work? I would argue, that even though many of her photographs were “impounded”, those photographs were recently released to the public bringing the subject to the forefront again. Her FSA work is some of the most recognized photos from that program. I would like to think that she is still affecting change decades after she originally made the images.
Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon
Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning
Dorothea Lange Photographs – Library of Congress
Impounded: Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of the Japanese American Internment during World War II
Photographs of an Episode That Lives in Infamy (The New York Times)
Dorothea Lange: Drawing Beauty Out of Desolation (NPR Morning Edition)
Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits (Dodho Magazine)
Dorothea Lange Biography (Biography.com)
Dorothea Lange Biography (The Art Story)