Considered by many to be the history's most distinguished documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange brought her photographic vision to bear most memorably on the living conditions of Depression America's rural poor and Japanese Americans detained in World War II interment camps. Fighting battles and excelling at her craft were two activities that Dorothea Lange devoted her life toward. Throughout her life she overcame odds, with her childhood serving as a training ground for her role as one of the nation's first and finest documentary photographers. .
When telling about her youth, Dorothea Lange commented wistfully, "Nobody knew who I was, what the color of my existence was, but there I was." Her comment referred directly to her years in school. However, it also reflects deeper feelings of being "cast aside," an unintended consequence of her family's circumstances. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1895, Dorothea was the first child of Joan and Henry Nutzhorn, were children of German immigrants who made their home in the Hoboken shipping port situated across the Hudson River from New York City. Her father ran a thriving law practice in Hoboken while her mother, a former librarian, raised Dorothea and her younger brother, Henry Martin. .
At a young age, Dorothea's grandmother, Sophie Lange, was convinced her granddaughter "had a line in her head" (Meltzer, 5), she thought Dorothea highly intelligent and a good judge of quality and character. Grandma Sophie--"Grossmutter"--speaking in her heavy German accent would often show Dorothea the simple perfection of an egg or an orange, saying "of all the things that were beautiful in the world, there was nothing finer than an orange, as a thing" (Meltzer, 5). Dorothea knew just what she meant, for she possessed a strong appreciation of nature and humanity. Like her grandmother, she strove for perfection and appreciated the natural beauty of life.