Migrant Mother
May 26, 2007 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Her name is Florence Owens Thompson. In March 1936, FSA photographer Dorothea Lange took a series of photos of a 32-year-old woman and her children in a pea pickers' camp outside Nipomo, California, including one of the most famous photos in American history. Mrs. Thompson talked about the photos in 1979. [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (16 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wish she [Lange] hadn't taken my picture. I can't get a penny out of it. She didn't ask my name. She said she wouldn't sell the pictures. She said she'd send me a copy. She never did.
Florence Thompson hated the photo, but it prompted authorities so send aid to the camp. That didn't help the Thompson's, since their car had broken down and they were waiting in the camp while her sons were fixing the car.

Mrs. Thompson died in 1983. Her grandson has web site that tells her story.

The Online Archive of California has an online collection of over 20,000 of Ms. Lange's photos.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:51 PM on May 26, 2007


Hmm, interesting! I had always suspected that it was a staged photo because the little girls' cute bobbed hairdos are so perfectly cut. Silly I guess, since a parent can get quite skilled at haircuts over time, nevertheless I always felt something didn't add up.
posted by zarah at 2:14 PM on May 26, 2007


That particular photograph is in the public domain, and is
obtainable from the US Govt. Nobody's making any money off of it.
Get one yourself. Search for Dorothea Lange migrant mother.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:24 PM on May 26, 2007


Fantastic story, thanks for sharing it!
posted by zymurgy at 2:31 PM on May 26, 2007


I don't understand why the photos of her and her daughters in later life are nearly impossible to find, but here's one obscure web page that has one. It really completes the story to see how she fared.
posted by hodyoaten at 2:36 PM on May 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


From hodyoaten's German site:
"Florence and her family came through the Depression and worked their way into the middle class. Florence and most of her 10 kids settled around Modesto, California. Her children bought her a suburban tract house like that of daughter Norma Rydlewski, where this photograph was taken in 1979. But Florence didn't feel comfortable and moved back into mobile home. She literally wanted to have wheels under her. . . . . Florence died in the early 1980s."
posted by spitbull at 2:38 PM on May 26, 2007


posted by the Real Dan That particular photograph is in the public domain, and isobtainable from the US Govt. Nobody's making any money off of it. Get one yourself. Search for Dorothea Lange migrant mother.

Yep, Dorothea Lange (along with Walker Evans and several other now-famous photographers) was working for the FSA when she took those pictures, so those images--and many other famous images--have always been available to the public through the Library of Congress.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:38 PM on May 26, 2007


Great post, thanks for sharing the article.

In recent years, however, the FSA photographs have come under a growing criticism. Many view them as manipulative and condescending, to the point of assuming a "colonialistic" attitude toward their subjects

Christ, I hate that kind of bullshit. It's one think to discuss the problematic aspects of this kind of photography (something Sontag did brilliantly), quite another to spew simplistic crap about colonialism. But hey, anything for tenure, amirite?
posted by languagehat at 4:07 PM on May 26, 2007


nice post.
posted by ms.jones at 5:37 PM on May 26, 2007


Florence's story as told by her grandson is really interesting.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:40 PM on May 26, 2007


This is an excellent post, thanks.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:47 PM on May 26, 2007


spitbull - yeah, I found that interesting, too, when I stumbed across the article. Most people I know who had it hard during the Depression were apparently traumatized by it to one extent or another. My grandparents were always sticklers for not wasting any part of dinner (though the intentions were good, it led my grandfather to pack on the calories/weight).
posted by hodyoaten at 6:31 PM on May 26, 2007


Thanks for posting this and filling in some gaps.
posted by longsleeves at 7:14 PM on May 26, 2007


Hey, very interesting links - great post.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:28 PM on May 26, 2007


The grandson's site is fascinating. The extent to which he wants to deny that his grandmother represented what Lange intended, and the extent to which he details the ways in which she in fact did.

Sontag is right -- there's an objectification process in photography, and that's what they don't like. And of course whatever immediate help reached that camp because of the publicity, the life of the migrant farm worker really didn't change that much.
posted by dhartung at 10:01 PM on May 26, 2007


I really enjoyed reading the story behind the famous picture. Thanks!
posted by spacelux at 1:22 AM on May 28, 2007


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