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Migrant Mother: How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression

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  • Posted February 4, 2012

    A really good book!

    This volume about the famous iconic photo from the Great Depression is absolutely wonderful. The text is outstanding and the photos, including several more by the photographer who snapped the renowned cover photo, are stunning. The background stories of both the woman in the famous photo and the photographer are presented in surprising detail for such a short book. I recommend it highly.

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  • Posted July 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent addition to an excellent series!

    Migrant Mother: How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression is the second title I've read in the "Captured History" series (after Little Rock Girl 1957), and I really can't say enough about this series. It's amazing! The photographs, of course, are stellar, but the text is just as compelling. Migrant Mother focuses on the photographs of Dorthea Lange, the Farm Security Administration photographer who took the title photograph, an almost-missed opportunity that would later become one of the most iconic pictures of the Great Depression. It starts out telling of the event from Lange's point of view, explaining how her spur of the moment decision to visit the pea picker's camp came about. Next, the author backs up a bit to explain the Great Depression itself, focusing especially on the plight of migrant workers, in both pictures and text in a way that is very accessible to young readers. The background of the "mother", Florence Thompson, is discussed (ironically, Lange never knew the identity of her subject. She died of cancer before Thompson's identity was revealed to the country at large.) Then the author takes us into a closeup of the six photos--their sequence, composition, and what Lange was probably trying to achieve with each. (An interesting sidebar discusses the "thumb contraversy"--apparently, for the final and most famous photo, Tompson felt the need to brace herself by grasping the tent pole in front of her as she rested her chin in her right hand. Consequently, the thumb of her left hand became visible in the foreground when the picture was developed. Lange's boss thought the thumb added to the composition, but Lange disagreed and had it airbrushed out. Now I've got to know--does the photo in my school textbook have the thumb, or no? I've got to head back to school and check it out.) The journey of Lange's photographs continues the story--their publication, the impact they had on both the public and the government (which sent 20,000 pounds of food to the camp; however, Thompson and her family had already moved on) and their continuing influence today, including the fact that the image was used on a U.S. postage stamp. Lange's career as a photographer is highlighted, and Thompson's later life is discussed. One of her daughters, Katherine, was also interviewed for the book--Katherine was one of four daughters also photographed by Lange. The book wraps up with a timeline showing the pertinent U.S. and world events as well as those in the lives of Thompson and Lange. Altogether this is a well-written, informative, and thought-provoking book that would be a great addition to any library.

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