Picturing the Century

Portfolio: Dorothea Lange

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) announced her intention to become a photographer at age 18. After apprenticing with a photographer in New York City, she moved to San Francisco and in 1919 established her own studio. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Lange worked as a portrait photographer, usually for San Francisco's upper classes. But by 1932, wanting to see a world different from the society families she had been photographing, Lange began shooting San Francisco's urban unemployed and labor unrest. In 1933 she photographed the most famous of these images at the White Angel Jungle, a soup kitchen for San Francisco's jobless.

The photographs she took at the White Angel Jungle and elsewhere over the next few months changed the direction of Lange's photography. In 1935 she accepted a position as a staff photographer with the Federal Resettlement Administration (RA), later renamed the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Her work for the RA/FSA took Lange to the South, where she documented small towns, the lives of tenant farmers, and experimental agricultural communities. Returning to the West, she focused on the lives of migrant workers. In 1940 she was hired by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to produce photographs for a series of community studies in California and Arizona. During World War II, Lange photographed the internment of Japanese Americans for the War Relocation Authority and the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, for the Office of War Information. After the war, despite ill health, she photographed the founding of the United Nations for the State Department and completed several assignments for Life magazine in the United States and around the world.

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