25 Classic Dorothea Lange Quotes on Documentary Photography

Looking for the best Dorothea Lange quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. Below we have listed 25 of our favorite quotes from the pioneering documentary photographer to inspire and help take your photography to the next level.

Dorothea Lange Quotes

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

Art is a by-product of an act of total attention.

I realize more and more what it takes to be a really good photographer. You go in over your head, not just up to your neck.

Put your camera around your neck along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you.

One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it.

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.

I would like to see photographers become responsible and photography to realize its potential.

To be good, photographs have to be full of the world.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.

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Documentary Photography Quotes

For me documentary photography is less a matter of subject and more a matter of approach. The important thing is not what is photographed but how.

It is not a factual photograph per se. The documentary photograph carries with it another thing, a quality in the subject that the artist responds to. It is a photograph which carries the full meaning of the episode or the circumstance or the situation that can only be revealed – because you can’t really recapture it – by this other quality. There is no real warfare between the artist and the documentary photographer. He has to be both.

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.

This benefit of seeing… can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image… the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate.

When you are doing a lot of hard fast field work, it’s a physical necessity to forget every day. You can’t try to remember it in any continuity. You get so burdened if you try to do it the other way. You can’t dictate to your material… We found our way in, slid in on the edges. We used our hunches. And it was hard, hard living.

Walker Evans is, in my opinion, an extraordinary man. He had extraordinary eyesight. There is always a little twist in it somewhere, there is a bitterness, not always, I take that word out, and there is an edge, a bitter edge to Walker. That I sensed; and it’s pleasurable to me. I like that bitter edge. He seemed very straight and very true. I don’t care if he’s a son-of- a-gun.

My own approach is based upon three considerations. First – hands off ! Whenever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.

Lange used the following quote from the painter Francis Bacon as her credo for her documentary photography work:

The contemplation of things as they are, without error of confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.

Francis Bacon
Migrant Mother, Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California March 1936 © Dorothea Lange Estate/Museum of Modern Art

Lange on Subjects

As photographers, we turn our attention to the familiarities of which we are a part. So turning, we in our work can speak more than of our subject – we can speak with them; we can more than speak about our subjects – we can speak for them. They, given tongue, will be able to speak with and for us. And in this language will be proposed to the lens that with which, in the end, photography must be concerned – time, and place, and the works of man.

It came to me that what I had to do was to take pictures and concentrate on people, only people, all kinds of people, people who paid me and people who didn’t.

Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.

I am trying here to say something about the despised, the defeated, the alienated. About death and disaster, about the wounded, the crippled, the helpless, the rootless, the dislocated. About finality. About the last ditch.

Dorothea Lange Quotes for Better Photography

You know, so often it’s just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swooping out in a cloud of dust: sitting down on the ground with people, letting children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you just let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you are apt to receive it, you know?

I’ve never not been sure that I was a photographer any more than you would not be sure you were yourself. I was a photographer, or wanting to be a photographer, or beginning – but some phase of photographer I’ve always been.

Every image he sees, every photograph he takes, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy – an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with his subject but by the audience.

The good photograph is not the object, the consequences of the photograph are the objects.

Photographers stop photographing a subject too soon before they have exhausted the possibilities.

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What’s your Favorite Dorothea Lange Quote?

Have a favorite Dorothea Lange quote from the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, or print it out, and refer to it next time you need some inspiration. If you’ve found the article helpful, then we would be grateful if you could share it with other photographers.

To see more of Dorothea Lange’s photography, check out her image archive on the Museum of Modern Art website.

Looking for more words of wisdom from master photographers? Visit the quotes section of Photogpedia for more great photography quotes.

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David

Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

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