According to an essay by photographer, Martha Rosler, the photo became the most reproduced photograph in the world.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she gave up the prestigious fellowship to record the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA).
Thompson was not of European descent — as had been commonly assumed — but “a full-blooded Cherokee Indian” from Oklahoma. Meister said, raises the compelling question of whether “Migrant Mother” would have resonated so widely if viewers knew the subjects were Native American.“We have never been a race-blind country, frankly,” Ms. “I wish that I could say that the response would have been the same if everyone had been aware that she was Cherokee, but I don’t think that you can.”Ms. With help from librarians at the San Francisco Public Library, Ms.
Meister pieced together how the inaccurate caption information probably came about. Lange filed her pictures to The San Francisco News, a reporter for United Press went to the migrant encampment in Nipomo. Lange — and, apparently, the Thompson family — had left days earlier, her photos were published with the United Press’s reporter’s article. Meister’s book is part of “One on One,” a series in which each volume delves into a single piece in Mo MA’s collection.
One of Lange's most recognized works is Migrant Mother.
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet.
In 1918, she left New York with a female friend to travel the world, but was forced to end the trip in San Francisco due to a robbery, and settled there, working as a photograph finisher at a photographic supply shop.
Her studies of unemployed and homeless people, starting with White Angel Breadline (1933), which depicted a lone man facing away from the crowd in front of a soup kitchen run by a widow known as the White Angel, captured the attention of local photographers and led to her employment with the federal Resettlement Administration (RA), later called the Farm Security Administration (FSA).
But “Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother,” a new book from the Museum of Modern Art, offers fresh insights as it weaves a compelling tale about some little-explored details. Lange was working for the federal Farm Security Administration, the photo is available to everyone, and it has been used in many ways, including as a postage stamp, a 1,000-piece puzzle and on trinkets, T-shirts, posters and postcards. Thompson wrote to the editor of the Modesto Bee newspaper explaining that she was the woman in the photo — and that she felt exploited because she was never compensated for the image. Unlike with most of her other assignments, there are no known field notes from Ms.
Written by Sarah Meister, a photography curator at Mo MA, the book comes out at a time when faces of desperately poor people in migrant caravans dominate the news.“I thought, could there possibly be anything new to say about this picture? Part of why so many people related to the image was, perhaps, the anonymity of this family, which could have been any of millions of Americans suffering through the Great Depression, Ms. A subsequent Associated Press article in The Los Angeles Times revealed that Ms. Lange about this shoot in Nipomo, Calif., and the captions in the Library of Congress are, Ms. Thompson’s relatives have insisted, for example, that they did not sell their tent for food as the captions declared.