3/20: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother
In the wake of the Great Depression, economist Roy Stryker of the FSA (Federal Farm Security Administration) hired photographers to capture the anguish and suffering felt by the impoverished across America. Among them was Dorothea Lange, a new college grad from Columbia who had set her sights on photographing life “on the streets”. In February of 1936, Lange was in Nipomo, California taking pictures of poor migrant workers when she stumbled across a worn-looking mother with her children. Lange immediately took 6 separate images of her and her family over a span of ten minutes. The woman’s name was Florence Owens Thompson, and she, along with her children, were looking for work picking in the fields. Accounts claim she was a mother of three, but she actually had had seven children by the time the photographs were taken. Other sources claim that Lange treated Thompson with empathy and respect, but Thompson herself said in an interview that Lange had promised the photos would never be published, as they were an extremely private moment in a time of anguish for her and her family. Either way, the photo became perhaps the iconic photo of the Depression, inspiring many to lend aid and support while helping to establish Lange’s reputation as the first “documentary” photographer. She claimed that documentary photographs contain an element that an artist can respond to, which is well shown in each photograph. Most of the photographs have the children either looking away or in the background, bringing Thompson’s face to the foreground and creating emphasis on her and her situation. The emotion she captured was one of suffering, which, while perhaps unwarranted, stimulated a movement that ultimately connected people to one another like never before.
Information about the photo itself:
Learn more about Florence and her life before as well as after:
How the photo was used as propaganda: