If I had to choose only one great photograph of all those I have ever seen, this would be it. The exposures which follow explain how it was made. It is also a tribute to great composition by the photographer, evidenced in this image which can be enlarged to full frame by clicking on it.
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936
Migrant Mother is one of a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California.
Lange was concluding a month's trip photographing migratory farm labor around the state for what was then the Resettlement Administration.
In 1960, Lange gave this account of the experience in the magazine Popular Photography for February 1960:
"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it."
These images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4x5" film. It is not possible to determine on the basis of the negative numbers (which were assigned later at the Resettlement Administration) the order in which the photographs were taken.
This was a migrant agricultural worker's family in 1936, destitute in pea picker's camp, Nipomo, California, because of the failure of the early pea crop. There are seven hungry children and a 32-year-old mother. Their father is a native Californian. These people had just sold their tent in order to buy food. Of the twenty-five hundred people in this camp most of them were destitute.
This a photo of the scene as Dorothea Lange approached them with her camera. The following are prints of her exposures as she brought this imposing large format camera closer to her subjects.
Dorothea Lange, White Angel Breadline, San Francisco, 1933
Dorothea Lange, Street Demonstration, San Francisco, 1933
Dorothea Lange, Crossroads Store, Alabama, 1937
Dorothea Lange, J.R. Butler, 1938
Dorothea Lange, One Nation Indivisible, San Francisco, 1942
Dorothea Lange, Grandfather and Grandson, Manzanar, 1942
Dorothea Lange, Spring in Berkeley, 1951
Dorothea Lange, Korean Child, 1958