She is my first answer when people ask me who my favorite photographer is/was. I would give almost anything to capture the emotion in the subject and instill the empathy in the viewer with photographs the way that she mastered. Truly she was one of a kind.
Who? It’s hard to imagine the landscape of modern documentary photography without the defiant, principled and tireless presence of Dorothea Lange. Born in New Jersey in 1895, Lange is today widely acknowledged as one of the most influential image-makers of her century, having relentlessly documented some of the most turbulent political and cultural times in American history: from the tired, hungry and desperate Dust Bowl refugees of the Great Depression, to the Japanese-American internees she felt were being unjustly incarcerated post-Pearl Harbor, through to the thousands of women who made up the workforce in the shipyards of Richmond during the Second World War.
A visual activist, proto-feminist, and early environmental campaigner, Lange triumphed over adversity in her young life after contracting polio at the age of seven – an illness that left her with a misshapen foot, causing her to walk with a limp for the rest of her life. This episode imbued in her a sense of empathy which she felt contributed to her ability to engage with her subjects. “Lange was a strong advocate for the power of photography to effect real change,” explains Alona Pardo, curator of the retrospective Dorothea Lange: The Politics of Seeing, newly opened at the Barbican. “She dedicated her life to telling the truthful stories of the communities she sought to represent and record.”
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