Dorothea Lange’s Indelible Photos of Struggle and Survival Are Newly Archived Online

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The faces, places, and politics of Dorothea Lange’s photos during the Great Depression, Japanese American incarceration, Jim Crow, and other eras of inequality have echoes today, not just in the conditions she captured but in the strength of people she met. More of her work is now online, thanks to the Oakland Museum of California, whose team has digitized her archives. Her greatest themes are powerfully presented, from wealth inequality to wartime challenges, strategies for survival, and resilience. She overcame hurdles of her own, contracting polio at 7 years old and getting stranded in San Francisco after a robbery that took everything. But nothing kept Lange from her focus. She was the first woman awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography, and she gave it up to take a job documenting history in the field.

Lange called herself a journalist first, artist second, but she embodied the storytelling creativity and brilliance of both. Drew Johnson, the museum’s curator of photography and visual culture, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that Lange “hoped her photography would encourage empathy, motivate you to do something about [challenges in the world] and create a popular movement to relieve people of suffering.” Lange’s legacy is right this way (the museum’s archives) and here and here (glimpses from Mother Jones’ archives). Thoughts about her impact? We’re at recharge@motherjones.com.

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