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Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother (in english).

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This picture is a photograph called Migrant mother. It was taken in March 1936, in Nipomo Camp California, by Dorothea Lange who was born in 1895 and died in 1965.

It’s a black and white portrait of a woman with three of her children.


Florence Owens Thompson, the mother, was thirty-two years old on the picture. Her children were probably 6 and 7 years old and 9 months old. The mother is sitting with her baby sleeping on her lap. She looks really worried and tired. She is not looking at the photographer, she is looking away. She seems to be waiting for someone or something, but maybe not.

The two older children are standing, huddling their mother and hiding their faces. They might be crying. They look destitute and dirty because they are wearing rags.

Although the mother seems to suffer from her life conditions, she looks dignified and rather graceful.


It’s a black and white portrait so it emphasizes the sadness, the filth and the poverty of the family. The mother’s face is expressive and tells us how desperate she feels. She has no hopes for the future and for her children.

The children seem ashamed of their conditions that’s why they are burying their faces in their mother’s neck. They don’t want to show their faces on the photo.

This picture also makes us think  the mother is single or a widow and that she has to raise her children on her own, in that way, we can say that the photographer manipulates the people who are looking at the photograph because it’s not true. We know that the mother has a husband and other children. Before the photograph was taken, the family was on the road heading for Watsonville to find work and the car broke down in a pea-picker’s camp. Her husband with the older children went to town for repair while the mother and the younger children stayed in the camp waiting.

The photographer also took 5 other pictures but selected the most expressive one: the portrait which focuses the most on the mother’s face.


This picture was taken in the middle of the Great Depression, in 1936, 7 years after the stock market crash. Cities and most of all, rural areas were hit hard. People had to face unemployment and the collapse of personal incomes, taxes and prices. Farmers couldn’t make money from their crop. They couldn’t cope anymore.

This picture stands for the misery of the American people at that time and aims at showing the human consequences of the stock market crash. It also aims at promoting the New Deal set up by Roosevelt, a sort of economic programme which supported the poor.

Parallel with other pictures

Madonna and child (the Tempi Madonna) – Raphael (1483-1520)

The photograph can refer to the  »Madonnas » painted by Raphael which show Mary, Jesus’s mother with her child and allude to the tragic fate of her son. The mother on the photograph can’t think of a brilliant future for her children. She is aware they will suffer.

This photograph was also used by other minorities, for example African American people to denounce different issues like poverty, segregation, single-parent family, in other words to denounce a hopeless and gloomy future for children.

Teacher : P.Gouyette

Publié par duhamel le 14 mai 2012 dans 3ème
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Une réaction à “Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother (in english).”

  1. duhamel
    14 mai 2012

    Thank you so much!

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