Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures

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Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. March 1936

Gelatin silver print, printed 1949, 11 1/8 × 8 9/16" (28.3 × 21.8 cm). Gift of the artist

Filmmaker, Dyanna Taylor: This photograph has been used and seen so many times that Dorothea once said to me, “it doesn't belong to me, really, it belongs to the public." It's just part of the imagery we think of when we think of the Depression in America.

Dorothea had been traveling alone on assignment in California and was heading back toward Berkeley, when she passed a sign that said, “Pea-pickers camp.” She drove on and then began to argue with herself, “Maybe I should go back.” The crops had frozen, and almost everyone was out of work and very hungry. She spotted a woman alone with children.

Dorothea took seven negatives of the woman, Florence Thompson, and her children, and the final image is the one that we've all come to know so well.

When Dorothea returned to Berkeley, she submitted some of the images to the press. The public was very moved by the images, and aid was soon sent down to the pea-pickers camp.