Lange continued to work as a photographer after the war, teaching, publishing, traveling, and holding exhibitions. Her photographs often explored how California was growing and changing in the post-war years, capturing new construction and veterans re-adjusting to civilian life. She died in 1965, years before many of her photographs were ever publicly displayed.
The ethnographic import and historical context illuminated in Lange’s work are significant. The many migrant mothers she captured in her photographs in the 1930’s provide a unique and indelible portrait of American life that continues to inform how we understand the Depression to this day.
Lange spent significant time with her subjects, earning their trust, learning about them, and staging the scene. But when her works were displayed, these captions were sometimes left out, contributing to the common perception that her work reflected her “natural” eye or “feminine intuition” for capturing intimate emotions. Biographer Linda Gordon suggests such gendered assumptions belie the thoughtfulness and expertise Lange brought to her work: “far from being passively receptive, she was an assertive visual intellectual, […] working systematically to develop a photography that could be maximally communicative and revealing.”
Gordon, Linda. “Dorothea Lange: The Photographer as Agricultural Sociologist,” Journal of American History, 93, 3 (Dec. 2006): 696-727. See also Lennard J. Davis, “Migrant Mother: Dorothea Lange and the Truth of Photography,” Los Angeles Review of Books, March 4, 2020.
A Life in Images
Galleries & Exhibits
- 11865-1925: Hunger in the Industrial City
- 21929-1940: America in Crisis and Recovery
- 31945-1965: WWII and the Paradoxes of the Postwar Era
- 41955-1980: The Fight for the Right to Food
- 51975-1996: The Unmaking of the Great Society
- 61997-Present: How It Is — And How It Should Be