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Guide to the Lange (Dorothea) Collection 1919-1965
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Acquisition Info
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Dorothea Lange Collection
    Date: 1919-1965
    Creator: Dorothea Lange
    Repository: Oakland Museum of California
    Oakland, CA 94607
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Please contact the Oakland Museum of California Art Department, Dorothea Lange Collection, for any questions regarding copyright.

    Acquisition Info

    The Dorothea Lange Collection was donated to the Oakland Museum of California by Paul Schuster Taylor, Lange's husband and professional collaborator of thirty years, during the years 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1971.
    Suggested citation of these records is "Copyright the Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor."
    The Oakland Museum of California has full copyright to all Dorothea Lange negatives contained within its collection and collection prints not created for the federal government. All requests for permission to publish or reproduce these images must be submitted in writing to Rights and Reproductions, Art Department, Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, California 94607. For more information, you can telephone the Oakland Museum of California Art Department at (510) 238-3005.


    The insightful and compassionate photographs of Dorothea Lange (1895 - 1965) have exerted a profound influence on the development of modern documentary photography. Lange's concern for people, her appreciation of the ordinary, and the striking empathy she showed for her subjects make her unique among photographers of her day.
    Beginning as a commercial portrait photographer in 1920s San Francisco, Lange's early documentary work included images of Native Americans, made on travels to the Southwest with her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon. By the early 1930s, studio work seemed limited and static to Lange; almost intuitively, she took her camera to the streets, to the breadlines, waterfront strikes, and down-and-out people of Depression-era San Francisco.
    In 1935 Lange began her landmark work for the California and Federal Resettlement Administrations (later the Farm Security Administration).
    Collaborating with her second husband, labor economist Paul Schuster Taylor, she documented the troubled exodus of farm families escaping the dust bowl as they migrated West in search of work. Lange's documentary style achieved its fullest expression in these years, with photographs such as "Migrant Mother" becoming instantly recognized symbols of the migrant experience. Coupled with Taylor's essays and captions, her photographs were hailed as persuasive evidence of the urgent need for government programs to assist disadvantaged Americans.
    Although the coming of World War II brought an end to Lange's FSA work, the war opened a new chapter in her life as a photographer. During the war, Lange documented the forced relocation of Japanese American citizens to internment camps; recorded the efforts of women and minority workers in wartime industries at California shipyards; and covered the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco. Only illness prevented her from completing a1940 Simon Guggenheim Foundation grant to travel the country photographing the American people.
    This dedication and compassion drove Lange even during the final years of her life. In the 1950s and 60s she produced vivid photographic essays on Ireland, Asia. Egypt, Midwestern utopian communities, and the post-war industrial scene of the Bay Area.
    Dorothea Lange died in 1965. The following year, her unique collection became a gift to the Oakland Museum of California from her husband, Paul Schuster Taylor. The collection includes Lange's personal negative file of more than 25,000 images, over 6,000 vintage prints, and a selection from Lange's personal papers and library.
    Long utilized by researchers--as is shown by published books: Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life; Photographing The Second Gold Rush: Dorothea Lange and the Bay Area at War, 1941-1945; and Dorothea Lange's Ireland--the archive is impressive in its depth and breadth.

    Scope and Content

    In the three decades since its acquisition by the Oakland Museum of California, the Dorothea Lange archive has received heavy use by scholars, researchers, and the general public. The astonishing range of subjects and themes addressed by Lange over a fifty-year career, coupled with her unusual sensitivity and vision, have made her photographs useful for publications and research in a wide variety of disciplines and fields.
    Lange and her husband, Paul S. Taylor, shared a commitment to making the archive available, both during their lifetimes and for future generations. For most of the archive's history, the photographs were accessible only by searching through fragile vintage prints and almost seventy volumes of bound proof sheets. Aside from the difficulty of locating specific images or themes, photographs on proof sheets were small and often hard to read.
    In the 1990s, the Oakland Museum of California succeeded in capturing these images onto video disk. This technology allowed researchers to browse the entire collection of nearly 25,000 negatives and hundreds of prints on a video monitor linked to the museum's collection database--saving wear and tear on precious original negatives or proof sheets. These video images have since been translated into digital images and now, through the California Digital Library, we make these video disk images available to you. Because these images were captured by video disk, they are not considered to be of high quality by today's standards. However, by capturing the entire negative from the proof sheet, rather than the image alone, this form of digitization offers a very unique perspective of Lange.s work. Also, by making these images available on the Internet, we at the Oakland Museum of California are succeeding in our ongoing endeavor to make Lange and Taylor's commitment to access a reality.
    In an effort to document this collection as completely and as accurately as possible, excerpts were transcribed directly from Dorothea Lange: Archive of an Artist written by Karen Tsujimoto with an introduction by Therese Thau Heyman, published by the Oakland Museum of California in 1995. Additionally, the format of this book was used as a model for organizing the collection in its online format.
    The ID number for item level records in the Lange collection begins with the prefix LNG. This prefix replaces the actual prefix used by the Oakland Museum of California, which is A67.137. Changing the prefix for the online version compensated for space limitations and brevity in data entry. If, however, inquiring to the Oakland Museum of California about a particular image, LNG and A67.137 are interchangable.