Childhood and Early Life

Two childhood traumas shaped Lange’s path as a photographer. At the age of seven, she contracted polio, which left her with a lifelong limp. Five years later, her father abandoned the family, prompting a move from suburban New Jersey to a poorer neighborhood in New York City. She credited these experiences with instilling in her empathy for “the walking wounded”—her words for people in distress. Left on her own while her mother worked, Lange wandered the streets of New York, fascinated by the variety of people she saw. In this way she learned to observe without intruding—a good skill for a documentary photographer to acquire.

I had in my early years, a variety of experiences that a child shouldn’t really meet alone. . . . Now I know how much that has given me. — Dorothea Lange