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November 3, 2023

A Sign of the Times: Stenographer With Mended Stockings, San Francisco, 1934

In the early 1930s, America was hit by a devastating economic depression. It was a challenging time of injustice and suffering, very much like today. In response, Dorothea Lange left her San Francisco portrait studio to photograph her community and everyday people. Lange felt that she needed to do something about the crisis. Her camera was her only available tool to document what she saw.

These photographs were taken by Lange in San Francisco, 1934. The photos show a stenographer wearing her mended stockings. She holding it together with dignity during the harshest times. It is so poignant to see how Lange recognized the power of that image; it will be a lesson for centuries to come.

Dorothea Lange’s empathetic black-and-white photographs are among the most iconic documents of 20th-century American life. Lange is most famous for her intimate portraits of marginal American subjects; she captured life during the Great Depression, pioneering the use of documentary photography as a force for social change. Her photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936), which depicts the titular migrant harvest worker and her children, may be her most recognizable image.

Lange studied photography at Columbia University and initially worked as a studio photographer. In 1941, she became the first woman to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work belongs in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Oakland Museum of California. Lange also co-founded the photography magazine Aperture.


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