Sunday, October 25, 2009

The story behind the migrant mother



In the Nipomo camp, [Dorothea] Lange met Florence Thompson, 32, the mother of 11 children, five born out of wedlock. The family was in desperate straits, living off stolen vegetables from the fields. Lange took a half-dozen photos, putting Thompson and her children in different poses. She took the photos from just outside their tent, even moving a pile of soiled laundry aside, so as not to embarrass the subjects by noting their squalid living conditions. (Though Gordon doesn’t mention it, Lange may have decided to use only three of the children to avoid the public perception of “Okies” as irresponsible “white trash.”) For the key photo, she “made the unusual decision to ask the two youngsters leaning on their mother to turn their faces away from the camera,” Gordon writes.
--David Oshinsky, NYT, on the artifice of the documentary photograph

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