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Migrant MotherEnlarge image

Migrant Mother, March 1936, printed c. 1950-1959

Dorothea Lange
American, 1895 - 1965
gelatin silver print
33.1 x 26 cm
Purchased 1995
National Gallery of Canada (no. 37848)

portrait, group, child, female; head and shoulders pose, holding sleeping infant, children on either side of mother, heads buried on her shoulders
Lange's photograph is shockingly different from the usual portrayal of woman in Christian art as the nurturing mother or madonna with child. The woman is haggard and in rags. Evidently she is barely able to fulfil her maternal role. The gesture of her arm and hand form an inverted question mark, echoing the look of uncertainty and worry etched on her face. Her unbuttoned blouse suggests that she has just finished feeding her filthy baby, asleep on her lap. The two children turn away from the world, reflecting their mother's fear and lack of confidence. The father of this family had recently died; the mother is shown with three of her seven children. In 1936, at the peak of the economic Depression in the U.S., tens of millions of unemployed people moved to cities from rural areas seeking work and food. The FSA program was set up by the American federal government to soften the hardships of the Depression on rural Americans. It employed photographers to document the living conditions of poor rural Americans. During the 1920s and 1930s a number of women worked as photojournalists, a new professional field for women.

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