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Billie Silvey
May 2013
Dorothea Lange--
Depression and
World War II
Iconic photo of Depression era mother
and children (left); Dorothea Lange
(right); family in Depression (below).
Is there a difference between photos taken by men and photos taken by
women?  

A study of the work of the third photographer in this series might indicate
that there is.  
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) documented the Great
Depresssion for the Farm Security Administration.  The photographs,
exhibited in San Francisco in 1934, were moving and highly personal,
featuring families and individuals suffering the ravages of the Depression.

Lange was born in New Jersey, studied photography in New York City,
then worked as a portrait photographer in San Francisco for over 10 years.  
A childhood case of polio left her with a limp, which may have helped her
relate to her subjects.  She wasn't studying them from a position of
superiority.  They knew that she, too, had suffered.

At the 1934 exhibit, she met
Paul Taylor, an associate professor of
economics at the University of California in Berkeley.  The next year, the
two were asked by the
California State Emergency Relief Administration to
document migrant farm workers in Nipomo and the Imperial Valley.  

Lange was hired by the
Resettlement Administration in August.  That winter,
she and Taylor married.  They co-authored a book,
An American Exodus,
about residents of Oklahoma and Arkansas who had been scattered by hard
times in their states and had come to California to look for work.

Her best-known photo,
“Migrant Mother, Nipoma, California, 1936,” now
hangs in the Library of Congress.  It illustrates the pain, loss and
determination of American families facing the Depression.

“The good photograph is not the object," Lange said, "the consequences of
the photograph are the objects. So that no one would say, 'how did you do
it, where did you find it,' but they would say that such things could be."

During World War II, Dorothea Lange documented the
internment of
Japanese-Americans in camps, and women and minorities working together
in California
shipyards. Some of her internment photos were censored by the
government.

Following the war, Lange covered the
founding of the United Nations in San
Francisco.

She was the first woman to be awarded a
Guggenheim fellowship. In the 50s
and 60s, she visited Vietnam, Ireland, Pakistan and India, making
photographic essays for
Life magazine.

Is there a difference between photos taken by men and photos taken by
women?  Perhaps.  Dorothea Lange was working on assignment, but I
suspect that a different photographer would handle the assignment differently
and produce a different result.

As a woman Lange responded to the hungry children, stoic women and
defeated men of the Depression.  And because of her vulnerability, they let
her--and her camera--into their lives.

Her work is documentary, a straightforward portrayal of the human toll of
the Depression, shot with insight and compassion. The largest collection of
her photographs may be seen at the
Oakland Museum of California.  

Although she did not consider herself an artist, she said, “To live a visual life
is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable…But I have only
touched it, just touched it.”
In Dorothea Lange's photo (below) a
Japanese-American child sits on a pile of
his belongings, waiting for transport to a
camp.  He seems to be looking back on
his familir life.
Alfred Stieglitz
Ansel Adams