Dorothea Lange’s 1936 iconic photograph of the Great Depression

Dorothea Lange iconic photo Depression 1936

MIGRANT MOTHER: Photographer Dorothea Lange, 1936


This iconic photo of the Migrant Mother taken in California by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression, acknowledges the power of black and white photography to enter the national conference.  But this is also a story of the inequality between the photographer and the photographed:

Yet it seems unjust that Migrant Mother, one of the most successful photographs in American history, should have helped so many, but done nothing for the woman whose face and body were able to express so much. Thompson was a model; she was posing, and she knew why. She was to represent the very Figure of Poverty. So she organized her posture and set her expression just so for Lange’s camera. And that is a talent, too. Thompson and Lange, for an instant in 1936, were collaborators. Yet the gulf between their fortunes, already colossal, would only grow wider as years passed.

In 1936 Florence Thompson, a Cherokee,  allowed Dorothea Lange to photograph her family because she thought it might help the plight of the working poor. “She always wanted a better life,” her daughter later said.

From Lange’s notes:

I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that [she and her children] had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.

Posted in Conditions for Community Health, Food & Income Security, History of Photography, Photography Archives, The Power of Black and White Photography.

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