She Shoots Film


Film Photography By Women

Dorothea Lange - The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera

It has been 49 years since Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) passed on. However her photography has been widely disseminated and it’s easily recognised. During her employment with the US Farm Security Administration (FSA), Lange documented poverty in rural areas and the exploitation of migrant labourers. The woman in the photo below is of Florence Owens Thompson with her two young children and baby - it is well known as Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’. In 1960, she expressed her experience of taking the photograph:
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

And on Lange’s return home, she reported the conditions at the camp to the editor of a San Francisco newspaper along with the provision of two of her photos. Consequently, the editor informed the federal authorities and published an article that included the photos. The government responded by rushing aid to the camp to prevent starvation. In Lange’s words,

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”