“I had to learn how to be unseen,” says documentary photographer and photojournalist Dorothea Lange as she describes how having to quietly step between the drunks in New York’s Bowery at the age of 12 helped shape her into the photographer she would become. “I became acquainted with the New York Bowery, down which I walked every evening alone,” she says. “And I learned to be unseen at that age. I could step over drunks easily after a while. I learned that if one is not afraid and doesn’t look personally at anyone they will let you go by. And that has stayed with me all my working life.”
Lange's photographs for America's Farm Security Administration documented the human scale of the Great Depression and became a massive influence on photojournalism. In addition to Lange’s own fascinating anecdotes, our Friday morning video features friends and former colleagues recalling personal moments with the photographer who died in 1965 aged 70. Former assistant Rondal Patridge recalls her instruction to drive slower so she could see the people and tents at the camp where she shot migrant workers. These photos make up some of her most iconic work, including “Migrant Mother”, which is featured on the cover of our recently published book on her.
"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet," Lange once revealed. "I don't 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 32. 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 tyres from her car to buy food. There she sat in that 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."
You’ll find more of Dorothea Lange’s photographs in the Phaidon book, which includes 55 of her most famous photographs along with detailed captions explaining the story behind each one. For now though, take a look at the video, and, if you like it don't forget to share it.