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Today in History: Renowned Documentary Photographer Dorothea Lange Dies of Esophageal Cancer (1965)

Documenting the life and hardship of people is what made the name Dorothea Lange stick to the consciousness of people during her time as a photographer. She simply saw people in their element and wanted to portray the struggle of the ordinary working class. Her form of art still sends ripples in the world of photography today.

It’s not a secret that America was once stricken by poverty and hardship during it’s earlier days as a country. It is the photographs of migrant workers, struggling working class people and the families they try to support that Dorothea Lange wanted to show the world. Her photographs made people stand still and appreciate the better things in life that others would break their backs for.

Photo via Gravena Media

Dorothea Lange was born under the name Dorothea Nutzhorn. After the separation of her parents during her teen years, she dropped her last name and took up her mother’s maiden name, Lange, as her own. A bout with polio left her right leg significantly weaker but she admitted that it was a gift that molded and shaped her into what she was really meant to be. Lange felt that she owed what insight and outlook she had in life to that disease that “instructed…,helped… and humiliated [her].”

Her passion in capturing the struggles of people looking for greener pastures in a drought and poverty-ridden America is what pushed her to travel the open road among the very same people she was trying to document. Her images are a powerful sentiment to what was happening to many families who were roaming the vast lands, one town to another in search of work and a place to stay.

Her iconic photograph titled The Migrant Mother stirred emotions and established a connection with the people who saw it and the people who are enduring the same fate. Lange’s intimate relationship with her subjects were founded in respect and trust. She was known to have stopped whatever she was doing if her subjects didn’t feel comfortable with it. Afterwards, it was the very same subjects who were telling their stories of life on the constant move for a better tomorrow.

Lange was active in her line of work even during the last two decades of her life, she was still taking up photography assignments and even helped found Aperture – a small publishing house that produced high-end photography books. She died of esophageal cancer on October 11, 1965, she was 70.

All information used in this article were sourced from The Selvedge Yard, The History Place, Biography.

written by cheeo

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