Anne Darling Photography

Migrant Mother:
Photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

Migrant Mother is the title of a photograph made in 1936 by Dorothea Lange of a woman called Florence Thompson and her children, a peapicker who lived in a workers' camp near Nipomo in California.

Lange made a detour on her way home one day, to visit the camp. While there she took a series of photos of the woman and her children. The final photo in the series is her most famous work, and the one image that came to sum up the Depression Era. Critical acclaim for that one photograph continues to this day.

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Migrant Mother, 1936
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Thompson, aged 32, was living on vegetables she found in the fields near the camp, and birds that the children killed. When Lange arrived at the camp, Thompson had just sold the tires of her car to buy food.

Lange's photos of the destitute family initiated immediate action from the powers that be. Food supplies were rushed to the camp and when Lange published the photograph there was a huge uproar that amongst other things, inspired Steinbeck to write his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The photo of Florence Thompson is one of the most famous photographs of all time, and Lange said that when she took the picture she knew she had recorded the essence of her assignment which was to document the impact of federal programs in improving rural conditions for the Farm Security Administration as part of a team of photographers.

This image contains all the suffering, stoicism and heroics of a single mother struggling to feed her children. Thompson was married but Lange cleverly chose to photograph just the mother and only three of her seven children. Also, this is the last photo in a series of six. Lange worked in a subjective way, gradually paring away what she didn't want in the picture to arrive at this powerful composition with its compressed space and echoes of paintings of the Madonna and child.

This powerful composition, arrived at through the photographer's subjective process, made this photograph the iconic image of the era and placed Lange firmly in the history books for all time.

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