Profile: Lange Captures America’s Unwanted

Dorothea Lange made her reputation photographing the victims of the Great Depression in the US, and the exploitation of US farmers that followed. Her most famous photograph, Migrant Mother, shows the strength and torment of a migrant worker, surrounded by her three children.

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother

February/March 1936

I am reminded of the raw devotion to family and humanity that is expressed in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. When times are hard, it seems, the best side of people can emerge; their stoicism, their determination to stick to their values against all the odds. Such times also expose the darkest side of capitalism, that two-headed beast that feeds us when times are good, and consumes us when they are bad.

Until the late 20th century, Lange’s most controvestial work went largely unrecongnised, owing in no small part to its censorship by the US government. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, president Franklin Roosevelt authorised the forced relocation of over one hundred thousand Japanese Americans into concentration camps. Assigned to report on this process, Lange could not help but capture the inhumanity of the government’s policies. Some of her most powerful photos, such as pictured below, show American schoolchildren swearing alligence to the stars and stripes before being transported to concentration camps.

Dorothea Lange
Salute of Innocence, Children of the Raphael Weill public school,
April 1942


References: Women Come to the Front, City of San Francisco Museum, Wikipedia.

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