Dorothea Lange

Lange was finishing a month’s trip photographing migrant farmhands for what was then the Resettlement Administration. In 1960, Lange gave this account of the 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, quoted in Wells, p.42)

The six images in the series were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5” film. This type of camera needs and demands careful composition and is one sheet of film for one exposure. There were other children and a husband in the family but Lange moved these out of the image
in an effort to construct the connotations she wanted. For example, the image may have recalled the traditional iconography of the Madonna and child in the mind of some

pp.39–49 of your course reader. This is an in-depth look at the cultural impact of Lange’s Migrant Mother and the FSA project, examining the image in context from the original through to the Black Panther version of the sixties. This is essential reading and expands on what has been introduced here.

Getty Museum film about Dorothea Lange’s documentary work:

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