"One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind."
The photographer Dorothea Lange was born in 1895 in Hoboken, N.J., USA. She got her start as a photographer in San Francisco, C.A. as a commercial portrait photographer when she ran her own studio from 1916 until 1932. Her early work, made during these years, consisted of images of Native Americans which she made while travelling through the southwest with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon. By the early 1930's, she grew tired of her studio work, seeking to work in the streets of Depression era America. She went to the streets, capturing the breadlines, workers' strikes, and poor people of San Francisco.
In 1935, Lange started her groundbreaking work for the California and Federal Resettlement Administrations (later the Farm Security Administration). California had commissioned a report on how laborers lived. Collaborating with Paul Schuster Taylor, an economics professor and her later husband, she documented the masses of farm families who ran from the dustbowl conditions in search of work in the West. Lange and Taylor would later marry after her divorce from Dixon. They would collaborate on American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in the Thirties, published in 1939.
These years brought Lange's documentary style of photography into its greatest expression as she emphasized the dignity of the migrant laborer in a time of abject poverty. Such works as "Migrant Mother" and "White Angel Breadline" became symbols of the worker's life during the Depression. Her work resulted in the establishment of state-built camps for migrant workers.
The arrival of World War II brought an end to Lange's work for the Farm Security Administration. However, this did open new doors for her photography. During the war, she photographed the forced relocation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans to internment camps, the women and minority workers at California shipyards, and the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco.
Some of her most hailed work was at Raphael Weill School in 1942. Here, she captured an amazing moment in history. On April 7, 1942, the Wartime Civil Control Authority had taken the first 644 Japanese people from San Francisco. According to records, Lange came to the school two weeks later, on April 16, 1942. She also photographed on April 20, which was two days after Doolittle's raid on Japan. Seven days after Lange left the school, on April 27, registration began for the next group of internments and on the 28th, half of the Japanese population of San Francisco was removed and forced into converted horse stalls at Tanforan Race Track in San Mateo County. By May 20, they were all gone, including all of the children Lange had photographed that April.
Said the Library of Congress regarding her work during the war:
"Three months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the relocation of Japanese-Americans into armed camps in the West. Soon after, the War Relocation Authority hired Lange to photograph Japanese neighborhoods, processing centers, and camp facilities.
Lange’s earlier work documenting displaced farm families and migrant workers during the Great Depression did not prepare her for the disturbing racial and civil rights issues raised by the Japanese internment. Lange quickly found herself at odds with her employer and her subjects’ persecutors, the United States government.
To capture the spirit of the camps, Lange created images that frequently juxtapose signs of human courage and dignity with physical evidence of the indignities of incarceration. Not surprisingly, many of Lange’s photographs were censored by the federal government, itself conflicted by the existence of the camps.
The true impact of Lange’s work was not felt until 1972, when the Whitney Museum incorporated twenty-seven of her photographs into Executive Order 9066, an exhibit about the Japanese internment. New York Times critic A.D. Coleman called Lange’s photographs 'documents of such a high order that they convey the feelings of the victims as well as the facts of the crime.'"
Illness eventually overtook her after her work during World War II, and she did not photograph again until 1951, when she travelled working for Life magazine, creating such photo essays as Three Mormon Towns (1954) and The Irish Country People (1955). She also worked in Asia, Egypt and in the postwar industrial conditions of San Francisco.
Lange died in 1965. In 1966, her collection was given to the Oakland Museum of California from her husband Paul Schuster Taylor. The collection held Lange's negative file which contained 25,000 images and over 6,000 vintage prints, as well as Lange's personal papers and library.
http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist/lange.html Library of Congress quotation
http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist10/lange2.html further information regarding Raphael Weill School including the photographs themselves.