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born 1895

Documentary photographer Dorothea Lange began her career taking portraits of the rich. But it was her pioneering photos of the unemployed and migrant farmers that would make her reputation. And, have a lasting social impact.

Dorothea attributed her affinity with the downtrodden to her own struggles growing up. Crippled by polio as a child, she was abandoned by her father at 12. Unlike many of her peers, she refused to "steal" a picture. Instead, she met her subjects and used their words in captions. Perhaps this is why her photos ~ whether of breadlines or Japanese-Americans interned during WWII ~ remain so compelling.

bio bits

her quotes

all quotes by Dorothea Lange (24)

"It is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer any more than the lion tamer becomes a lion tamer."

Photographing the Familiar | april 1950

"We are inclined...to crawl into our dark holes, and if we do not inflict our suffering upon others we regard our responsibilities as performed."

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits | january 1958

"The best way to go into an unknown territory is to go in ignorant, ignorant as possible, with your mind wide open."

Dorothy Lange: A Visual Life | january 1958

"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | january 1960

"The words that come direct from the people are the greatest . . . If you substitute one out of your own vocabulary, it disappears before your eyes."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | january 1960

"I was physically disabled, and I don't think anyone who hasn't been semi-crippled knows how much that means. I think it perhaps was the most important thing that happened to me. It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me."

The Making of a Documentary Photographer | october 1960

"I think we conjure up and invent people, and then whoever happens to be there is the recipient of our imagination. A good deal of the attraction between people, I think, is based on the fact that one is able to absorb the creation."

The Making of a Documentary Photographer | october 1960

"Personal chit chat seems so poverty stricken and unimportant, and yet, actually, from it come the things that get you going."

The Making of a Documentary Photographer | october 1960

"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."

Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life | january 1963

"While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | january 1963

"When you're working well, all of your instinctive powers are in operation, and you don't know why you do the things you do."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a hunk of lightning | january 1963

"That frame of mind that you need to make fine pictures of a very wonderful subject, you cannot do it by not being lost yourself."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | january 1963

"I believe that what we call beautiful is generally a by-product. It happens when the thing is done very, very well."

Dorothea Lange KQED audio tapes | january 1964

"We see not only with our eyes but with all that we are and all that our culture is."

Dorothea Lange KQED Audio Tapes | 1964

"To know ahead of time what you're looking for means you're then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting, and often false."

Dorothea Lange: The making of a documentary photographer | january 1964

"Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion . . . the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate."

Dorothea Lange: KQED audio tapes | january 1964

"One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it."

Dorothea Lange KQED Audio Tapes | january 1964

"I many times encountered courage, real courage. Undeniable courage. I've heard it said that that was the highest quality of the human animal. I encountered that many times, in unexpected places. And I have learned to recognize it when I see it."

Oral History with Dorothea Lange | may 1964

"The people who are garrulous and wear their heart on their sleeve and tell you everything, that's one kind of person, but the fellow who's hiding behind a tree and hoping you don't see him is the fellow that you'd better find out why."

Oral History Interview with Dorothea Lange | may 1964

"Life, for people, begins to crumble on the edges; they don't realize it."

Oral History with Dorothea Lange | may 1964

"My grandmother told me that of all the things that were beautiful in the world there was nothing finer than an orange...I knew what she meant, perfectly."

Berkeley oral history | january 1965

"Beauty appears when one feels deeply, and art is an act of total attention."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | january 1965

"I will set myself a big problem. I will go down there, I will photograph this thing, I will come back, and develop it. I will print it and I will mount it. And put it on the wall - all in twenty four hours. I will do this to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | january 1965

"There are moments when time stands still. You hope it will wait for you. That fraction of a second captured on that tiny piece of sensitive film."

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning | 1965
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curated with care by Kathleen Murray {august 2014}