From humble beginnings in 1890s New Jersey and contracting polio at age 7 (which left her with a lifelong limp), Dorothea Lange went on to become one of the most prolific photojournalists of her era. At the time she graduated high school, Lange had never even owned or used a camera, but somehow knew it was her calling.
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” –Dorothea Lange
She went on to work for Time Magazine and with Ansel Adams, but some of her most beautiful work documents the everyday lives, hardships, and struggles of normal people during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
From 1935-1944, the US government sent photographers out on a mission. Raise funding for the Farm Security Administration’s programs to benefit farmworker families displaced by the Great Depression. 170,000 images were made during those years, among them, Lange’s more than 500 late summer and early fall photographs of the people and rural environment of the Columbia Basin, Willamette Valley, Rogue River Valley, Klamath Basin, and Malheur County. The following images are, in my humble opinion, some of the best. Quotes are verbatim her original field notes.
1. “Oregon, Marion County, near West Stayton. Children in large private bean pickers camp. Pickers came from many states, from Oklahoma to North Dakota.“
2. “Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note social security number tattooed on his arm.”
3. “Williamette Valley hop farmers in town hold their political forum on drug store corner. Independence, Oregon.”
4. “Hop farmer’s children, small owner, and backyard of house. Oregon, Polk County, near Independence.”
5. “Migratory boy, aged eleven, and his grandmother work side by side picking hops. Started work at five a.m. Photograph made at noon. Temperature 105 degrees. Oregon, Polk County, near Independence.”
6. “Woodpiles along the street are a characteristic of Portland, Oregon. Costs five dollars and fifty cents per cord, and must be hauled thirty-five miles. (Shows homeowner on porch.) Portland, Oregon.”
7. “9:00 a.m. Four pupils attend this day, of the seven who are enrolled at the eastern Oregon county school. Between Pleasant Valley and Durkee, Baker County, Oregon.”
8. “Franklin Schroeder, from South Dakota, and his two older boys. Dead Ox Flat, Malheur County, Oregon.”
9. “Girls of Lincoln Bench School study their reading lesson. Near Ontario, Malheur County, Oregon.”
10. “Independence (vicinity), Polk County, Oregon. Wife of an ex-logger, now a migratory field worker, resting in the shade of the hop vine at noon.”
11. “Mrs. Sam Cates, wife of Cow Hollow farmer. Malheur County, Oregon.”
12. “Young mother, twenty five, says “Next year we’ll be painted and have a lawn and flowers.” Rural shacktown, near Klamath Falls, Oregon.”
13. “The Fairbanks family has moved to three different places on the project in one year. Willow Creek area, Malheur County, Oregon.“
14. “Soper grandmother, who lives with family. FSA (Farm Security Administration) borrower. Willow Creek area. Malheur County, Oregon.“
15. “Just arrived from Kansas. On highway going to potato harvest. Near Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon.”
16. “We made good money in the cherries this year. From then on we made just beans.” Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon. Woman in mobile unit of FSA (Farm Security Administration) camp.”
17. “Lighthearted kids in Merrill FSA (Farm Security Administration) camp, Klamath County, Oregon.“
18. “Young farm boy. Younger brother trying to make a holster from the leather of an old coat. Oregon, Jackson County, near Medford.”
19. “Oregon. Medford. Half-grown farm boy on main drugstore corner in town.”
20. “Farmer and boy in the fall of the year at the time the hunting season opens. They live in a white painted house across the road. Jackson County, Oregon.”
21. “Oregon, Josephine County, Grants Pass. Sunday picnic in park on the Rogue River. Outskirts of Grants Pass.”
22. “Oregon, Josephine County, Grants Pass. “California Day.” A picnic in town park on the Rogue River. Hot summer afternoon. Toward the end of the picnic.”
23. “House being moved through the main street of town (population 2473). Deposited over Sunday on intersection of U.S. 99. Quiet, rainy afternoon. Cottage Grove, Lane County, Oregon.”
24. “Seven of the eight farmers shown with their cooperatively owned ensilage cutter on the Miller farm, where they are working filling the silo. Yamhill County, Oregon.”
25. “Oregon, Marion County, near West Stayton. Bean pickers barber each other.”
Dorothea Lange passed away from cancer on October 11, 1965.
To see more of her digitized work, enter her name in the search box here: http://photogrammar.yale.edu/search/
Dorothea Lange in Oregon: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/lange_dorothea_in_oregon/