Seven words and a picture: poverty, migration, ethnic minority, woman, mother and dignity

Seven words and a picture: poverty, migration, ethnic minority, woman, mother and dignity
'Migrant mother'. Dorotea Lange © Wikimedia Commons

Seven words and a picture: poverty, migration, ethnic minority, woman, mother and dignity

“A camera is a tool to learn to see without a camera”, wrote Dorothy Lange, one of the pioneers of modern photojournalism and author of a photo (called Migrantmoher) which with time has become one of the most powerful images of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The power of the photo is such –the face of poverty and desolation- that it has probably left more messages than such resounding literary works as The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, and its predecessor, The Harvest Gypsies, a series of reports by the same author for the San Francisco News, which was like a dress rehearsal for the latter work.

Migrantmother portrays in the foreground the look of a peasant mother, haggard, hungry and extraordinarily beautiful called –this was discovered later- Florence Thompson, a Cherokee Indian who is in pea-picking field in Santa Barbara (USA). The photo was taken in 1936, the year the Civil War started in Spain, when the depression was already 7 years old. Years later, Florence said: “Hunger was already visible in the camp and death was not long in coming. First the youngest and the oldest. Soon local people would come to the camp and there were arrests and beatings, to disperse us far and wide”.

Dorothy Lange, a self-made photographer, worked for one of the organisations created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, within the framework of the New Deal, to cover and support farm workers. Several photographers had been hired to show what they saw and gain support from other people.

Seventy years later there was another crisis as long as the Great Depression. in some martyr countries like Greece, it was just as harmful and deep or even worse. Many photos of impoverished Greeks offering solidarity to the even poorer refugees from the other side of the Mediterranean were taken by Dorothy Lange’s successors. The dignity of the photographer and of the subject.

 

Joaquín Estefanía, journalist