Thursday, February 26, 2009

"It Was Very Hard"

Mrs. Florence Thompson with three of her five children.

Through this photograph taken by Dorothea Lange, this migrant woman and her children became an image that was synonymous with the worst suffering of the Depression years. In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience in taking the photograph:
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.

When she took the photo, Lange was working for the Resettlement Administration, which became the Farm Security Administration, documenting the conditions of the poorest in the depression years--the homeless, the migrant workers, those on the move. Her photos were sent out to the country's newspapers for their free use.

You can listen to an interview with Florence Thompson and read her short biography here, along with other interviews of some people who had been photographed by Lange during those years. You can also see more of Dorothea Lange's depression photographs here on Shorpy.


Suzanne said...

This, along with the National Geographic photo of the Afghan girl, are two of the most recognized photos ever.

I have an acquaintance who was raised in a very, very poor household in the south. Because of his perspective he cannot see the value in this photo, he only sees it as exploitive. This photo makes him very angry. I really can't even discuss it with him. He had to read "All Over But the Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg for a college course and that made him livid. He could barely finish the book. Of course, his anger is because he had to endure this kind of grinding poverty and all that it entails. I must respect his viewpoint but I wish he could find a way to deal with his demons.

- Suzanne

willow said...

This is such a powerful photo. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words. I forgot to check out the Shorpy link yesterday. I'll do that now. Thank you.

Paz said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the links.