Next up in this series is the documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. Her work remains to this day some of the most iconic images of American life, especially in hard times (see Tim Egan's The Worst Hard Times). As a documentary photographer in the 1930s she captured the hardship of migrant life during the Great Depression, and her images of women and children are especially searing. She embedded with these destitute families, many of them from the dust bowl of Oklahoma and Texas, as hired staff of the U.S. Farm Security Administration there to document the conditions of the economic migrants in California.
It might seem trite to observe that she was also a sharp dresser, in light of the gravity of her most famous photographs. Lange cared about how she looked, and dressed to fit the bohemian and academic crowd she was a part of, and also to hide her polio-afflicted foot. She most often wore pants or long skirts, and always low-heeled shoes.
Her uniform of trousers and button-down shirt was distinct, classic, and entirely appropriate to her working life. Only a few photos of her from that time exist to show her simple sailor pants and short hair and beret. She dressed for comfort, agility, and to fit in with her subjects. I'm admiring of how timeless her uniform is--she could be in the field today and look as prepared and elegant as she does in these photos.
She continued photographing American subjects until her death in 1965, but is most known for her migrant photos.
For an authoritative biography of Lange, read Linda Gordon's Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, which appropriately, in my opinion, addresses her career and challenges an an artist and social critic in a male-dominated field.
Thank you to Meg Partridge (Rondal's daughter) for allowing me to use the images here. This post was updated on December 6, 2018 to include an Indie Bound affiliate link to Linda Gordon’s book about Lange.