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Dorothea Lange and the Afterlife of Photographs

Published on 6 January 2021 at 13:46

In 1934, in the midst of an economic, agricultural, and environmental disaster that was actively devastating the United States during the long depression, Dorothea Lange abandoned her lucrative San Francisco portrait-studio practice to photograph the urgent and unfolding humanitarian crisis. Over the next ten years, working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and a variety of other government agencies, Lange produced some of the most powerful and influential social-documentary photographs of the modern era. Her photographs—and their distribution through government channels—gave a human face to indigent, outcast, starving, and forgotten laborers, often in the form of iconic images, such as her famous Migrant Mother (1936). Yet despite the evocative efficacy of her individual pictures, Lange claimed that, “All photographs—not only those that are so-called ‘documentary,’ and every photograph really is documentary and belongs in some place, has a place in history—can be fortified by words.”


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