The White Angel Breadline by Dorothea Lange was shot in San Francisco, 1933. Even without context, this image makes me emotional. From the body language, I feel the loneliness, hopelessness, and hardship the man must be feeling. That he is lonely despite being surrounded by others. He is waiting in line with many others waiting for food. The posture of the man leaning on the fence, turned away from everyone else with a frown on his face show a break the pattern.
The Migrant Mother photograph tells the story of a single mother who is exhausted and weary yet determined. The exhaustion can be seen in her face and tired eyes. The weariness is seen from the frown on her face that is turned away from the photographer and the hand on her face. As for determination, that comes from being a mother in poverty with responsibilities, such as the sleeping baby in her arms and children with their faces hidden leaning on her for support and comfort. The decision of not showing their faces keeps the focus on the mother’s facial expressions and express the vulnerability of kids growing in poverty.
Photographs capture moments and tell stories. But as mentioned in Whose Migrant Mother was this? There’s more to a person than their picture. Florence Thompson, the subject of Migrant Mother, wished her photograph was not taken even though she agreed to pose for Lange at the time. She didn’t want to be the face of poverty especially given she wasn’t a pea picker. Although poor, the Thompson family was in better condition than the photo depicts. On her journey to document the great depression in America, Lange chose Florence as her subject to not only show poverty but highlight a mother’s strength and determination in the face of hardship. In fact, this image resulted in aid getting to the migrant camp and brought hope to many in similar circumstances. Circumstances that many face today during this pandemic. The health and financial struggles make people fearful of not just today but the future. And with the help of technology, those struggles are shared with the world to invite aid, inspire people, and bring comfort.