Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. 1936
This is a photograph of a young migrant mother in Nipomo, California. She's seated with her youngest child held closely to her, and two of her other seven children have their heads resting on her shoulder, but turned away from the camera. She holds her hand to
her chin in a gesture of concern about the family's future, and she looks out on to the horizon with lines of worry in her forehead. She is identified as destitute in some early captions for the image. And it was only later in the life of the image that Florence Thompson became known as the "Migrant Mother." Dorothy Lange took the photograph in 1936 at the height of the Great Depression. Lange was being paid by the government to photograph the effects of the Depression on the population of the United States. There was no part of the country that was untouched by the Depression. And it meant that people from all kinds of backgrounds were simply trying to make ends meet. There were loads of migrant workers traveling through California to try to find work. Dorothea Lange made at least six exposures of this Migrant Mother and various combinations of her children in February or early March, 1936. The reason that this has become such a symbol of the Depression, is that it's really in this composition where she's moved in closer and closer to the migrant mother's face, bringing the children around her. And it's this one image that has become synonymous with this moment in our country's history.