One of the most iconic photos that came out of The Great Depression was “Migrant Mother” by photographer Dorothea Lange, and it was "Photoshopped" to remove a “defect.”
In her new book “Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother,” Museum of Modern Art curator Sarah Meister shares a tip on how to tell if a reprint of the iconic photo was made before or after 1939 by inspecting the mother’s left thumb. Lange “considered the thumb to be such a glaring defect that she didn’t have a second thought about removing it” when she instructed her assistant to retouch the photo and remove Florence Owens Thompson’s thumb.
Though her decision may have gotten her under fire, as she was on assignment by the US Government’s Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to spotlight the lives of impoverished Americans. Her FSA boss, Roy Styker, was not happy with the decision to manipulate the photo, as he believed it compromised the authenticity of the photo and his documentary project.
The original, unretouched version of the image can be found in the Library of Congress.
Read more on the background story of the "Migrant Mother" on a previous post of ours by writer Christopher Malcolm.