Image Source: Wikipedia
Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother is a fabulous photograph that lends a face to the Great Depression. With each passing year, newer generations are growing further and further away from the events that shaped the course of world history – and this is both, disparaging and dismaying since there is a lesser degree of connect, that is only on a progressive decline. To this end, photographs such as Dorothea Lange’s collections play a valuable role.
The Migrant Mother is the image of Florence Owens Thompson: the lady who has been long associated with being the face of the Great Depression. The legendary photographer behind this, Dorothea Lange, was not just a photographer, but a sensitised storyteller who knew the nuances of capturing difficulty in a frame. Dorothea Lange captured the image while visiting a dusty California pea-pickers’ camp in February 1936. In the process, she not only preserved the individual impact that the Great Depression had, but also the linchpin of unconditional and undaunted resilience of a rather proud nation that was in the midst of desperate times.
Florence Owens Thompson was only 32 when Dorothea Lange approached her. To Dorothea, it was as if she was drawn by a magnet: to the image she saw in her mind’s eye when she looked at Florence. But what made her stay was the compelling narrative that made Florence who she was – and therefore, and apt subject for her picture. A mother of seven children, Florence had lost her husband to tuberculosis. She was stranded in a migratory labour farm in Nipomo, California and her family thrived and remained alive by feeding themselves on birds that her children killed, and vegetables that were taken from a field near them. It was a hand to mouth existence, just as frugal and paltry as any of the other 2,500 odd workers in the camp.
Needless to say, the photograph and the story of Florence became a very astounding piece of truth. It had a powerful impact, and was quickly reproduced in newspapers everywhere. Thompson’s gaunt and traumatised face triggered an immediate public outcry at the state of affairs. Activism rose in response, as people began protesting to demand that something be done. In response, political authorities from the federal Resettlement Administration rose to the call for action and sent food and supplies. Sadly though, Thompson and her family had already moved on after receiving nothing in the name of support from the government for their misery. For the most part, though, Florence was obscure: until she revealed herself years later in a 1976 newspaper article.