The Story Behind One of History's Most Famous Photographs

"Migrant Mother," a photo by Dorothea Lange, is, by far, one of the most important and well-known images ever taken, having become an iconic symbol of the Great Depression. If you do not know the story behind the photo, check out this great video that will show you some of the history that went into it. 

Coming to you from T. Hopper, this excellent video will show you some of the history behind "Migrant Mother." Taken in 1936 in Nipomo, California, Dorothea Lange created the image during her tenure as part of the Resettlement Administration. The photo would go on to become probably the most well-known symbol of the Great Depression.

The 11 1/8 by 8 9/16 inch (28.3 cm by 21.8 cm) gelatin print is housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Interestingly, Lange specifically instructed the children to turn away from the camera to bring the focus directly to the mother's face, allowing the photo to more directly convey the difficulty of the situation without complicating factors from an interaction between the mother and children, thereby allowing the viewer to see a singular focus and message in the photo. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Hopper.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Years ago, I read a book by Mary Street Alinder called "Group F64" where she claimed that Lange's own kids had been in foster care. I didn't know if it was true or not, so I did a basic google search and found this:

Susan Sontag wrote an essay in "On Photography" where she pointed out how odd it was that the FDR administration used images like the "Migrant Mother" during the Depression to show women as helpless/pathetic and in need of the New Deal. Then during World War II, images like "Rosie the Riveter" were used to portray women as strong/forceful by the same administration. Images have a propaganda value and it's possible that both Lange and the politics of the time may not have been as altruistic as they appeared to be.


The 'historic' images beg the question.....wherein lies the truth?