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As It Was: Photographer Records Great Southern Oregon Depression

Oregon was the last state photographer Dorothea Lange visited in the 1930s as a field investigator for the Farm Security Administration.  She was assigned to document the problems of the Great Depression in the Pacific Northwest. 
Arriving in Grants Pass in August 1939, she began taking hundreds of black and white images of Oregon’s rural poverty.  In Grants Pass, Lange’s pictures show she lingered at a Sunday picnic in a park along the Rogue River.   

Her photographs documented migrants living on nearby hop farms and pickers’ families packed into one-room, scrap-wood shacks with sheets of fabric for doors in camps with no running water.  Lange even took pictures of the camp’s leaning outhouse. 

Workers labored all morning for 42 cents, which Lange said one woman spent on bologna, cigarettes, and a “mother’s cake.”  Her pictures also show a grim-looking sheriff’s deputy leaning on the paymaster’s window as workers collected their day’s pay.  

After Grants Pass, Lange documented bean-pickers in the Columbia Gorge and a high-desert potato harvest.  Her final shoot for the government was at Merrill near the Oregon-California state line. 
 

Sources: Dorothea Lange Collection, Grants Pass Oregon." Library of Congress, U.S. Government, Aug. 1939, https://www.loc.gov/search/?q=Dorothea+Lange+in+Grants+Pass+Oregon&sp=1. Accessed 19 Nov. 2017; file:///C:/Users/JPR-OP~1/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.gif Milholland, David, and Kenneth Coleman. "Dorothea Lange in Oregon." Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Historical Society, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/lange_dorothea_in_oregon/#.WhIFGYWcFaT. Accessed 24 Apr. 2015.

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Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.