St. Lawrence University
Pea Pickers

Understanding the circumstances behind the "making" of an iconic image can be a powerful way for students to evaluate images and their sources.

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection:

The following is excerpted from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division article.

The photograph that has become known as "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:

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. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

The 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.

There are no known restrictions on the use of Lange's "Migrant Mother" images. A rights statement for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information black-and-white negatives is available online at:             

Nipomo, California
POINT (-120.4759986 35.0427547)