Museum Masters: Dorothea Lange

Photography was the name of the game today as we learned all about Dorothea Lange, famed photographer of the Great Depression. Dorothea Lange was born in New Jersey, but made a name for herself as an artist in the Bay Area – a fact that kids found fascinating! A famous artist right in our backyard!
In class, we constantly talk about whether famous artist’s knew from childhood that they wanted to become artists, or whether that desire came to them later in life. For Dorothea, it was definitely a childhood dream.  She used to go to the public library and look at the photographs in books for hours at a time. As a child, Dorothea suffered from polio, which caused her to have a severe limp for the rest of her life. We talked about how this difference could have contributed to Dorothea’s artistic nature. As one child so beautiful stated, “Maybe her limp made her want to help people who were sad.” And yes, indeed, she did help those people in ways that we are still marveling at.  She helped them  by telling their stories in photographs – capturing people at their most vulnerable in order to tell of their inherent pride and humanity. To capture the amazing pictures she took, Dorothea would sometimes talk for hours to the people before taking one photograph
When more than 15 million people were out of work following the Great Depression, Dorothea vowed to document the experiences of the poor, the homeless and the unemployed. We discussed the historical significance of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and how Dorothea lovingly and honestly captured the experience of migrant workers on their way to California. We took a close look at several of her most famous pieces, including Migrant Mother and Daughter of Migrant Tennessee Coal Miner.
Migrant Mother
Daughter of Migrant Tennessee Coal Miner
We imagined what stories lay behind each picture, and brainstormed what the people in a variety of pictures might have been feeling. Each child was then given a specific Dorothea Lange photograph about which to write a short poem. These poems were nothing less than extraordinary.
Then, the children got ready for their close-ups and all had an opportunity to take pictures with my camera of the other children posing in “Dorothea” poses. What budding photographers we have! Truly amazing!
(yes, taken by a 7 year old!)
Here are a few fun things you can do at home:
  • We are so fortunate that Dorothea Lange had such strong ties to the Bay Area. The Oakland Museum of California actually boasts the largest collection of Lange photographs available. Take your children to this amazing museum and share a piece of California history!
  • Kids can make amazing photographers! Let your child take pictures with your camera, iPhone, iPad, disposable camera – anything to expose them to the wonderful world of photography. You might have a miniature Dorothea on your hands!

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