This article contains media that the editors have flagged as NSFW.
Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is an iconic representation of the Great Depression, and one of the most famous photos of all time. There’s more to the story than just the one famous image, however.
This video does a great job of breaking down the circumstances of how Lange got started in photography, and more specifically, shooting her most famous subjects. The Farm Security Administration, the government agency responsible for commissioning Lange’s work, was using the images to promote government programs to help those displaced by the Depression.
What I found the most interesting was the number of attempts she took at creating an image in the scene. Rearranging the kids, posing the mother, and even some darkroom adjustments to clone out a finger were all fair game. Granted, the images were only nominally photojournalistic, as they were more akin to propaganda. Overall, I think it is clear the final result is the strongest, despite being the most structured. The image definitely accomplishes its goal of inspiring support for the migrants.
Many argue that film photography is immune to manipulation, or that digital has opened the door to dishonest practices. Many famous film photographs feature heavy adjustments in the darkroom, and this breakdown of the image is a great example of the changes that can be made even before the shutter is clicked.