Friday, March 29, 2013

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother"

Dorothea Lange's 1936 photo, Migrant Mother
Along with Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, the photography of Dorothea Lange brought the plight of the migrant workers to the attention of the American public. Lange was hired by the FSA (Farm Security Administration), which was created as a part of the New Deal, to document the lives of struggling farmers. Her photos gave faces to the disastrous impact that the Great Depression had on American families, and in turn, they helped the American public to understand why government assistance and changes in policy was so desperately needed.

Florence Owens Thompson, the woman featured in Lange's 1936 photo Migrant Mother, recorded a short audio interview about her life before the photo was taken, what happened the day the photo was taken, and a little about her life after the end of the Depression. The strength in her voice, the matter-of-fact-ness about how hard she worked - this is exactly what Steinbeck sought to capture in his novel.  Her story, like so many others, is the story of The Grapes of Wrath.

The power of the arts - visual, literary, or performing - to help explain how others live, to illuminate what might drive a person to behave in a certain way, to humanize a concept has always been a core component of our society. And though The Grapes of Wrath takes place in 1938, it has an undeniable relevancy to 1973, to 1980, to 2007, and to 2013.

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