During the month of May, I will be adding posts about American Photographer, Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965). Lange is known as one of the preeminent documentary photographers of the 20th century. Lange’s images are some of the best known, most recognizable images of the 20th century. And, even though viewers recognize the images, they may not know the artist’s name who is responsible for the images, or anything about her. I recently read Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon. The Dorothea Lange biography provided some insight into who Dorothea Lange was as a woman, a wife, a mother, an artist, a photographer, and a business woman. But, let’s start at the beginning. Shall we?
Dorothea Nutzhorn was born on May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey. There were two pivotal events in her early childhood that played a large part in shaping her life. The first was contracting polio at the age of 7 which left her right leg and foot weak and twisted. The second event was the divorce of her parents when Lange was a teen. The divorce had such an effect on her that she eventually changed her last name to Lange; her mother’s maiden name.
As a young woman, Lange and a friend decided to travel and go on an adventure. Unfortunately, their first stop was San Francisco where all their funds were stolen. Apparently, Lange did not let this color her new adventure. She was resourceful and called upon her experience with photography to opened a portrait studio in San Francisco. While circumstance changed her plans, over time, Lange managed to build a very successful upscale portrait studio. Her studio also became a gathering place for artists and wealthy patrons in the San Francisco community. One of those artists, was the renowned painter, Maynard Dixon. Eventually, Lange and Dixon married and had two children. Lange’s studio work became the primary income for her family.
So how did this successful business woman, running an upscale portrait studio which catered to the wealthy, high cultured San Francisco crowd come to photograph the rural environs and people after the Great Depression? Oh my, let’s discuss it next week. But until then, just ponder what she accomplished in an era when women were not encouraged to be entrepreneurs, artists, or adventure seekers.