Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Remembering Dorothea Lange on the 120th anniversary of her birth

Read more on NPR here.  Lange was born in 1895.   An excerpt from Maria Godoy's story, which is accompanied by several of Lange's extraordinary photos, follows:
Her photographs gave us an unflinching — but also deeply humanizing — look at the struggles of displaced farmers, migrant laborers, sharecroppers and others at the bottom of the American farm economy as it reeled through the 1930s.

Lange worked for the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s, chronicling rural poverty across America and the agency's efforts to provide relief.

Her most famous photo is often referred to as "Migrant Mother." Shot in 1936 at a campsite full of unemployed pea pickers in Nipomo, Calif., the image features Florence Owen Thompson, a poor farmworker flanked by two of her seven children, while a third, a baby wrapped in burlap, rests on her lap.

Freezing rain had destroyed the pea crop. Thompson and her kids "had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed," Lange wrote in her notes. "She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food."
Godoy reports that one of Lange's pet peeves was having her photos published without the captions she put so great effort into writing for each.  One author who has written about Lange's Depression- era work, Anne Whiston Sprin, notes that Lange traveled to the Imperial Valley of California in 1935 to document
the situation of Mexican, Filipino and "white American" farm workers "living in hovels made of cartons, branches, and scraps of wood and cloth, with primitive privies, no waste disposal, no potable water." One of Lange's captions noted: "On these workers the crops of California depend."
Accompanying this story are also Lange photos of African-American farmers in North Carolina, "Mexican" farm workers in the Imperial Valley, and a white family en route to the Arkansas Delta to pick cotton.  Of the latter, Lange wrote in her notes: 
The people have left their home and connections in South Texas, and hope to reach the Arkansas Delta for work in the cotton fields. Penniless people. No food and three gallons of gas in the tank. The father is trying to repair a tire. Three children. Father says, 'It's tough but life's tough anyway you take it.'
Of a father and daughters whom Lange photographed planting sweet potatoes in North Carolina, she wrote:  
Her father hopes to send her to school.

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