Born: May 26, 1895 Died: October 11, 1965
Lange and the Relocation Camps
After taking photos of people during the Depression, Lange turned her lens on another subject. The United States entered World War II in December 1941. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an Executive Order to create the War Relocation Authority, which forced Japanese Americans to live in camps while America was at war with Japan. Dorothea Lange was invited to photograph the camps, whose residents were "interned," or confined. Can you imagine what it must have been like to live in one of those camps?
Of the 10 internment camps that were established, two of the larger ones were in Arizona. Overall, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were interned from 1942 until 1946. Even though she was against the policy of imprisoning Japanese Americans during the war, Lange photographed the people in these camps. Do you know why Lange took the job if she didn't believe that it was fair to imprison these people?
Lange agreed to take photographs in the camps because she hoped that once people saw what was happening, the internment would stop. The idea that photographs could influence people to help the oppressed members of society was a theme in almost all of Lange's work. Have you ever been influenced by a photograph?
Dorothea Lange, Apprentice Photographer When Dorothea Lange was seven years old, she contracted polio, a disease that caused her to walk with a limp. Her father abandoned the family when Dorothea was 12, and her mother went to work, first as a librarian and then as a social worker. Dorothea attended school in New York City, where, on her way home, she saw many people who were poor and homeless. Her illness, the abandonment by her father, and the people she observed in New York may have helped her understand some of the suffering of the people she would later photograph.
Lange decided at 18 that she wanted to be a photographer and began learning the skill through classes and apprenticeships, in which she worked with other photographers to learn her craft. She also attended classes in New York City. She did not consider photography to be an art form, but today many of her pictures hang in museums. Do you think of photography as a form of art or merely as a record?
Although Lange could not see the "art" in her pictures, her work has many of the same features as a painting. She captured not only images of people on film, but also the conditions under which they lived. What can you tell about the person who is the subject of the photo from this image? Like many paintings, Dorothea Lange's photographs tell a story, often sending a powerful social message.
This sequence of 6 photographs should exemplify the process a photographer goes through to come out with such a dynamite image, that is, the image on the bottom right, entitled "Migrant Mother"(California, 1936).(To see a larger version of it, please click on the image). It is evident that from the first to the last image, Lange had moved in closer, and created an emphasis on the mother. Even (by the final image) hiding the faces of the two children who cower on her shoulders. In fact, we see that the family may have been as big as seven total--there are six figures in the second image (top center), and the father, who Lange photographed later, is absent from all of these images. Lange has manipulated her subjects, to imply that a poor mother with two children (an average amount) will be capable to lead her family(doesn't her face express it?) out of their state of suffering, into the more prosperous future, if she is given the chance.
Stryker said of this image:
When Dorothea took that picture, that was the ultimate.
She never surpassed it. To me it was the picture
of Farm Security.
She has all the suffering of mankind in her, but all
the perserverance too. A restraint and a strange courage.
I do not know what type of camera Lange used here; like Evans, she uses sharp focus, but both Lange and Evans were technical experts anyway. I think it is more important, as far as comparing her photographs to Evans', to recognize the "future-orientation" of "Migrant Mother"--and how she had to shoot a sequence before getting what she wanted. (I do not, in any way, mean to degrade Lange's ability as a photographer; I do, however, mean to show the subjective nature of this image, as opposed to Evans' objective style.) Also, it is worthy to note how much Stryker emphasises that this image serves as the paradigm of the entire FSA collection.