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Image of Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California

Dorothea Lange , (May 26, 1895–Oct 11, 1965)

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California

1936
11 in. x 14 in. (27.94 cm x 35.56 cm)

Medium and Support: gelatin silver print
Credit Line: museum purchase
Accession Number: 2005.8

Commentary

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California is one of a series of photographs of Florence Owens Thompson and her children made in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California. Photographing for the migratory farm labor for the Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration), Lange made a number of exposures of this striking woman, who lived in a makeshift shelter with her husband and seven children at a pea-picker's camp. The Addison’s picture, a variant of the popular iconic view, provides a window into the artist’s photographic process. In 1960, Lange shared her experience:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they 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. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

A timeless image of hardship and courage, Migrant Mother was an important visual document of the poverty and working conditions of the nation’s agricultural workers and a propaganda tool for government aid. The iconic close-up portrait shocked the nation when published in the San Francisco News and was immediately adopted as the icon of the Great Depression.

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