Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Revolutionary Of The Week

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was born May 26th, 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey. At 7 years of age she developed Polio, which she survived, but became disabled in her leg & foot.

Lange took an interest in photography, & studied in New York City, where she apprenitced in several New York photo studios. In 1918, Lange migrated to San Francisco & opened a successful portrait studio. She lived in the Bay area the rest of her life & married the Western painter, Maynard Dixon, & had 2 sons with him.

When the Great Depression hit, Lange turned her lens from the studio to the streets. She captured the true face of the unemployed & homeless, which led to her employment with the federal Resettlement Administration (RA), later called the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

In 1935, she divorced Dixon & married agricultural economist Paul Schuster Taylor, a professor at Berkeley.

From 1935-1939 Lange's work for the RA & FSA brought the plight of the forgotten, mostly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, & migrant workers to the public's attention. The photos she took were distributed free of charge to newspapers across the country.

Lange on the story behind the photo "Migrant Mother" (pictured above), " I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me questions. I made 5 exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her and she seemed to know that my pictures might help her, so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it."

In 1941, Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for execellence in photography. After the attack on Pearl Harbor she gave up the prestigious award to record the forced evacuations of Japanese-Americans to relocation camps in the American west. This photo assingment added a new dimension to her work with the racial & civil rights issues it brought forth. "What was horrifying was to do this thing completely on the basis of what blood may be coursing through a persons veins, nothing else. Nothing to do with affliations or friendships or associations. Just blood."

As the Library of Congress wrote, " Lange quickly found herself at odds with her employer and her subjects persecutors, the United States goverment." Lange's attempts to use her camera lens to expose the social impact of the mass incarcerations at the camp's conflicted with the authorities. The military was suspicious of her, & she was even called before the War Relocation Authority on 2 occassions for alleged misuse of her photographs. The Wartime Civil Control Agency impounded most of her internment photographs, refusing to release them until after the war. Today, her approx. 800 photographs of the internement camps are available in the National Archives.

Lange died October 11th, 1965. True to her belief that the camera could teach people "how to see without a camera", she created images of human dignity & courage in the face of injustice. Not afraid of the consequences of showing the disgusting behavior & tactics of the United States goverment/military relating to WW2 & the inprisonment of Japanese-Americans through her photos, won Dorothea Lange this week's spot as Revolutionary Of The Week.