Migrant Mother.

Case Study: Image Analysis: The Example of Migrant Mother

Chapter Author: Derrick Price & Liz Wells

Inital notes:

  • Dorothea Lange, 1936.
  • Working for the Farm Security Administration project.
  • Stopped to photograph people employed to pick peas, came across the woman with her children.
  • Not only a photograph but used as a postage stamp and source for cartoons.
  • ‘One of the world’s greatest news photographs’.
  • Exploring the number of ways photos can be analysed.
  • No evidence as to the place or time which the image was taken by excluding background detail.
  • Included in the exhibition ‘Family of Man’ (organized by Edward Steichen, 1955).
  • The mother asked Dorothea no questions.
  • “Seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me” – Lange.
  • 50 years, the mother commented ‘she was proud to be the subject of the photograph, but that she had never made a penny out of it and that it had done her no good’ – Rosler 1989.
  • For the FSA project, photographers shot from scripts, had no control over how they were edited and did not own their own negatives.
  • A thumb was retouched out of the negative and someone was holding the tent back slightly when the photo was shot.
  • Rather than capturing the statistical position of the poor, which the FSA wanted, the photographers captured ‘the depiction of human destitution and distress’.
  • The image was alternatively called ‘Seasonal Farm Labourer’s Family’ in ‘A Concise History of Photography’ by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, 1965.
  • Original title by Andrea Fisher, ‘Destitute pea pickers in California, a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936’.
  • Karin Becker Ohrn criticized the quality of Lange’s prints – these issues weren’t too important for printing in books but when it was to be exhibited careful work had to be completed.
  • Can be considered both socially and artistically, depending on where it is displayed.
  • “Repeatedly represented in popular journals as the ‘mother’ of documentary” – Andrea Fisher.
  • Fisher also argued that editing by Stryker ‘obscured the work and the role played by women in the project’.
  • “…suggesting the power of maternal values to overcome the most dire of circumstances” “….reflects how great a part gender played in the symbolic management of the Depression” –  John Roberts.
  • 1960s/70s, a shift in photography which changed the way images were read.
  • ‘…the photograph signifies reality, rather than reflecting or representing it’ – Barthes.
  • Can read photographs in a variety of ways eg. Historically, comparisons, composition.
  • John Pultz comments upon body language in Dorothea’s image and what how this can be portrayed.
  • It’s number of appearances shows it’s iconic power.
  • Paula Rabinowitz comments how “an image and tale composed, revised, circulated, and reissued in various venues until whatever reality its subject first possessed has been drained away and the image becomes icon”. Gradually loses it’s meaning and emotion.

Following the reading of the alternate Migrant Mother extract (‘Chapter 3: “The Contemplation of Things as They Are” Dorothea Lange and Migrant Mother’ – James Curtis), we were asked to consider these factors with the two texts.

  1. How do the texts compare?
  2. How does the author introduce text?
  3. Is the author assuming you have knowledge of the subject you are reading?
  4. What sort of evidence does the author use to support their argument?
  5. Is their perspective partial?
  6. How are we suggested to read the image?
  7. How does the reading material relate to what you already knew about the image?
  8. What part of the reading would be useful?
  9. What else do I need to add to this information to use it constructively?
  • Extract 2 talks more about the actual image, whereas extract 1 explores how it can be analysed in different ways.
  • Looks at different interpretations.
  • Extracts from critics, lots of opinions.
  • First one is an emotional response rather than factual response.
  • Curtis’ writing gave a bit too much unnecessary information.
  • More flexibility in Curtis’ writing.
  • The person who she is gets lost through how iconic the image became.
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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on October 14, 2013.

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