At age seven Dorothea Lange was stricken with polio, which left her with a lifetime limp. And at age 12, her father disappeared from the scene, leaving an impoverished household behind. Every day she would ride the ferry with her mother from Hoboken to lower Manhattan, to a roiling working-class neighborhood teeming with immigrants. During that period Lange talked her way into photo courses with a range of teachers as diverse as Arnold Genthe and Clarence White. In 1918 she moved to San Francisco where she befriended photographers Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham, and, through them, the celebrated Western painter Maynard Dixon, who became her first husband. She soon opened a thriving portrait studio that catered to San Francisco’s professional class and monied elite. But with the crash of 1929 she found her true calling, as a peripatetic chronicler of the many faces of America, old and young, urban and rural, native-born and immigrant, as they dealt with unprecedented hardship, sometimes with resilience, often with despondence. Her immortal portraits seared these faces of the Depression era into America’s consciousness.
Dorothea Lange’s America opens at the Florida Museum of the Photographic Arts on November 15 and runs through January 27, 2013. Also included in the exhibition are notable social documentarians of the era, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Wright Morris, Mike Disfarmer, and others. The exhibit is sponsored by NorthStar Bank, Ferman Automotive, and Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP.
The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is located at 400 N. Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa. For information visit fmopa.org.