Among the most acclaimed American photographers of any era, Dorothea Lange is known for her work with the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. Her photography blurred the boundaries between artist, historian and storyteller, pushing the medium forward as a unique means of expression. Her work provides a somber but uplifting reminder of how individuals overcame incredible hardship in a time of crisis.
Although not overtly feminist in her outlook, some of her most iconic photographs focused on the strength and resilience of women and girls in the face of extreme poverty, such as the famous image series of a migrant mother and her children.
Indeed, Lange’s work shows a strong empathy for a wide range of marginalized groups and individuals, from the grizzled old white men in a breadline to black sharecroppers in the American South.
More recently, her photographs chronicling the Japanese internment – a series commissioned under the auspices of the War Relocation Authority – have bolstered her reputation as a daring artist who challenged authority. Photographs of schoolchildren reciting the pledge of allegiance or the storefront sign proclaiming “I am an American” directly refuted the government’s claim that Americans of Japanese descent posed a threat or deserved treatment as second-class citizens.
As issues surrounding immigration, human rights and national identity have resurfaced across the globe, Lange’s work serves as a startling humanist reminder against demagoguery and xenophobia disguised as populism. Lange used her work to make such an audacious critique of the American government’s failure of its own citizens while employed by the very same government itself. In a time of hunger, Lange sunk her teeth into the hand that fed.
All photographs by Dorothea Lange in the public domain.