The Great Depression was a reality check for our entire country; with it, we saw the people at the top fall from great heights, we saw the people at the bottom gasping for air and grasping for a helping hand that wasn't there. The Dust Bowl was pretty much a horrendous joke played by the-bully-formally-known-as-The-Universe to literally kick sand in our eyes and beat all of the Midwest further into the dirt it was already caked in.
In "Migrant Mother," 1936, by Dorothea Lange, the story of Florence Owens Thompson was much like many other American families at this point in time. The iconic photograph that swept the nation by storm gave a nameless face that many in our nation connected with on a very deep level. With her children in tow, a gaunt woman is seen, caught in intense thought. Longing, hopelessness, distress are all intrinsic in this image. Her clothes are tattered, her children are cowering behind her, not in fear of any monster other than hunger pains and fear of starvation.
With this project, I wanted to explore women in Art History, and this image is E V E R Y T H I N G i want to study and find undercurrents for in one place. We have a female artist working in a time where women still were not viewed as equals to their male counterparts. We have the nameless female subject (in this case, FOT asked to remain anonymous to save her children the embarrassment of being poster children for poverty). And we have them both creating conversations about social struggle in different ways.
Dorothea Lange left her life as a studio and portrait photographer to join the Farm Security Administration, which enlisted photographers to document the struggles American families were enduring during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. They would use the images in press releases, advertisements and news reports. Lange came across Thompson in California, asking if she would pose for her, saying that her story could help bring awareness to and subsequently help the poor in the area she was currently working.
Thompson raised ten children. "I worked in hospitals. I tended bar. I worked in the field, so I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids." While working in the fields, she would pick hundreds of pounds of peas a day, while her body weight didn't even pass one hundred herself. She made no money from her notoriety as "The Migrant Mother." She was the most famous face in America at the time, but still working 16 hour days to just scrape by.
This is obviously troubling for several reasons, but in an Art History related argument, just imagine all of the famous pieces of art that we look at and are referenced nearly every single day and the stories of their subjects are never known or heard. This woman was living UNDER A BRIDGE while Dorothea Lange was applauded for this photograph. I am so happy to share the stories of these women, because I feel that we as a human race do not always appreciate many things in life, and one of those is definitely our moms and sisters and cousins and friends and just regular women trying to make it by with their kids. Cheers to the ladies!