Episode 1 | The “Migrant Mother”

How Dorothea Lange captured the Heart of the Great Depression in “Migrant Mother”

“Migrant mother” by Dorothea Lange is more than just photograph. Lange’s work paved the way for a new era of photojournalism, in which images had the power to shed light on social injustices and inspire action.

Migrant Mother
© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange

The Great Depression

The Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash in 1929, hit the United States and much of the world hard, causing high unemployment and widespread poverty, especially in the weaker parts of society.

Despite government efforts, with actions such as Roosevelt’s New Deal, the crisis continued until World War II, which brought an economic recovery due to the need for armaments and other goods for the war.

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© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange

The Story Behind The Shot

After finishing a photographic investigation on farmworkers in suburban Los Angeles, commissioned by the Rural Resettlement Administration, a federal body monitoring the economic crisis, Dorothea Lange attracted by a sign marking a pea pickers camp, decides to stop and go into the field.

She discovers 2,500 people surviving on shacks and tents. For them, who were drawn there by a newspaper ad, there is no work or pay due to a frost that ruined the harvest.

Among these people, there is also a young 32-year-old woman, the protagonist of the shot. “I did not ask her name or her story,” Lange would say years later. Until the 1970s, the true identity of the “Migrant Mother” remained shrouded in mystery; it was finally revealed by a journalist, who identified her as Florence Leona Christine Thompson.

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Migrant Mother
© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange

“The Migrant Mother”: The Reflection of a Nation

Taken with a 4×5 Graflex, this is the image that more than any other humanized the cost of the Great Depression. The mother’s eyes, worn out by worry and resignation, look beyond the camera towards a future that appears uncertain.

These six photographs reflect the ambience of an entire nation, bent and suffering. Lange’s images were a powerful call to action for the government and the public, urging for social and economic changes to help those who had been left behind by society.

Already a few days after its publication, the effects of the “Migrant Mother” on people’s consciences began to be felt and basic necessities began to arrive at the migrant camp: food, clothes, doctors and medicines. In the years that followed, the image became one of the most popular on billboards, newspapers, and magazines.

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© Dorothea Lange
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© Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange’s Documentary Photography

Dorothea Lange’s documentary work on the Great Depression significantly influenced the subsequent generation of documentary and journalistic photography.

With a powerful lens and a critical eye, Dorothea Lange captured the raw American reality of the time with the aim of using her images as a powerful call for social change.

The “Migrant Mother” is a symbol of poverty and the struggle for survival during the Great Depression.

A shot took by chance that lives on in history. 

Picturing the Past:
A Photographic Journey Through History

Creative and engaging, “Picturing the Past: A Photographic Journey Through History” tells powerful stories through iconic shots, bringing to light significant moments in history.

Join us on a journey back in time through the lenses of those who have experienced and documented the most significant moments in history and the key personalities who contributed to changing the course of events through the most iconic photographs.


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