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Outstanding Photos: “Migrant Mother” (1936) March 26, 2009

Posted by t-maker in History, Outstanding Photos, Photos.
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When I saw this image for the first time it impressed me with the photographer’s complete technical mastery. But later I wanted to know what the fate of the desperate woman in the photo was. The photograph was made by Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965), outstanding American documentary photographer and photojournalist. In the 1930s she worked for the Farm Security Administration. The photo was taken in February or March of 1936 at a camp for destitute pea pickers in Nipomo 175 miles north of Los Angeles, California. The name of the woman in the photo is Florence Owens Thompson. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two.

The images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5″ film. A print of this image may be found in the Dorothea Lange Archive, Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, CA, 94607.

Migrant Mother

Dorothea Lange recollected that

It was raining, the camera bags were packed, and I had on the seat beside me in the car the results of my long trip, the box containing all those rolls and packs of exposed film ready to mail back to Washington.

I was on my way and barely saw a crude sign with pointing arrow which flashed by at the side of the road, saying PEA-PICKERS CAMP. But out of the corner of my eye I did see it I didn’t want to stop, and didn’t.

Having well convinced myself for 20 miles that I could continue on, I did the opposite. Almost without realizing what I was doing I made a U-turn on the empty highway. I went back those 20 miles and turned off the highway at that sign, PEA-PICKERS CAMP.

I was following instinct, not reason; I drove into that wet and soggy camp and parked my car like a homing pigeon.

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 32. 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 photos ran almost immediately in the San Francisco News, with an assertion that 2,500 to 3,500 migrant workers were starving in Nipomo. Within days, the pea-picker camp received 20,000 pounds of food from the federal government. However, Thompson and her family had moved on by the time the food arrived.

Only in the late 1970s the woman on the photo was identified as Florence Thompson. She survived then and died many years later, of “cancer and heart problems” at Scotts Valley, California, on September 16, 1983. Her daughter (shown on the left of the frame) said in an interview (December 2008) that the photo’s fame made the family feel shame at their poverty. Florence Thompson was quoted as saying “She [Lange] said she’d send me a copy. She never did.


1. Dorothea Lange – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection: An Overview

3. Migrant Mother, 1936

4. Arthurdale, West Virginia >> Photo Gallery

5. Florence Owens Thompson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Outstanding Photos: “A typhoid innoculation at a rural school” (1943) March 21, 2009

Posted by t-maker in History, Outstanding Photos, Photos.
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In April 1943 John Vachon (see previous post) took one of his most notable photographs for the Office of War Information .

Typhoid inoculation

The image was captioned ‘Dr. Schreiber gives a typhoid inoculation at a rural school in San Augustine County, Texas‘. 4×5 Kodachrome transparency film was used.

It was selected as a picture of the day on Wikimedia Commons for March 31, 2009.


1. John Vachon – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2. File:Typhoid inoculation2.jpg – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

3. John Vachon: Category:John Vachon – Wikimedia Commons

4. This Won’t Hurt a Bit: 1943 | Shorpy Photo Archive

5. John Vachon: Dr. Schreiber giving a typhoid inoculation, San Augustine, Texas, 1943 on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

Outstanding Photos: “Going Back” (1942) by John Vachon March 18, 2009

Posted by t-maker in History, Outstanding Photos, Photos.
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John Vachon (1914–1975) is an outstanding American photographer. In 1936 he was hired by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) as an “assistant messenger”. The FSA itself was created a year before as a part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program (to be more exact, a sequence of programs) aimed to overcome the Great Depression. John Vachon’s duty was to register the pictures that were being taken through the U.S. government photography project set up to record rural and urban conditions throughout the United States. He discovered an interest in photography and soon was hired by the FSA already as a “photographer”. From 1942 to 1943 John Vachon was a photographer for the Office of War Information created to consolidate government information services during the Second World War.

When you do the filing, why don’t you look at the pictures. (A memoir by John Vachon’s son quotes Roy E. Stryker, the head of U.S. government photography project)

In 1942 John Vachon made the photograph of the “Road out of Romney, West Virginia” with 35mm color transparency film. I think, this photograph is absolutely wonderful. It is a part of pictorial record of American life in the 1930s and 1940s, and, at the same time, it deals with the ageless themes of departure and return.

Going Back: 1942


1. John Vachon – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2. John Vachon _ Shorpy Photo Archive

3. Photographs from the FSA and OWI

4. Arthurdale, West Virginia » Photo Gallery

5. Road out of Romney, West Va. (LOC) | photo page – everystockphoto

6. John Vachon: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article

7. John Vachon, Miles Orvell. John Vachon’s America, University of California Press, 2003