“She was a terribly attractive, dashing kind of gal.”
So said Dorothea Lange about her friend and fellow photographer, Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1976).
One of the many amazing women Lange met when she came to San Francisco in 1918, Kanaga was the first woman newspaper photographer Lange had ever met, and she was totally bowled over by Kanaga’s courage.
Decades later, Lange shared her first impressions of her friend:
“[She] lived in a Portuguese hotel in North Beach, which was entirely Portuguese working men, except Conseulo. . .She’d go anywhere and do anything. She was perfectly able to do anything at any time the paper told her to. They could send her to places where an unattached woman shouldn’t be sent and Consuelo was never scathed. She was a dasher.”
Born in Oregon, Kanaga moved with her family to Larkspur, California at a young age. At thirteen she packed a sandwich and a rope and paddled a kayak from Sausalito to Alcatraz. Why? She was bent on rescuing any prisoner who might have been swimming toward freedom.
Her moxie only grew as she got older. In 1915, at the age of 21, she was hired as a reporter and features writer for The Chronicle—a real feat for a woman then. She soon showed a talent for photography and began contributing pictures to the paper as well. She and her friend Louise Dahl roamed the City on Sundays looking for interesting people and places—and found them in spades.
A renegade in so many ways, Kanaga was deeply curious and empathetic about the lives of people of color. It was not for nothing that Langston Hughes sought her out for a portrait—her pictures of African Americans have a depth and complexity that was utterly rare in the 1930s. Later she’d photograph the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s extensively.
In The Bohemians, Consuelo Kanaga is part of a fascinating circle of photographers, a compassionate and courageous woman who cut a path where there was none, only to be forgotten under the shroud of history.I think you’ll love her. Dorothea Lange sure did, and I most definitely do.