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Wednesday, 03 December 2008


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The power of photography is amazing.

And so is the heart of man.

I am sure that this photograph has pricked the conscience of many, it is the duty photographers everywhere to record those things that are fundamental wrongs.
There is no shame in poverty the only shame is on those who allow it to perpetuate wherever it is seen.
I take my hat off to Katherine McIntosh for overcoming that which she had no say in.


I hope she has a print of it, not just a copy from a book.

Thanks very much for passing this along, Mike. I'm generally fascinated by the back-stories and side-stories that famous photographs often carry, particularly many of the FSA images. This is the second such story I've heard told of this image, although the only story from a subject! A curator friend, who has a print in his collection, tells a story of just how many poses and futzing actually went into Lange creating this "candid" image.

My great fear is that in the coming months there will be ample opportunity to replicate that photograph. We have allowed ourselves to return to a level of income inequality not seen since the 1920's. The top 1% of our population now controls 38% of our nation's wealth (and the top 10% have 71%). Yet, we wring our hands at the mere thought of raising their marginal tax rate from 36% to 39%. Without such action we will not have the resources to deal with homelessness or any other social problem caused by the darkening storm, but so far the only people being "bailed out" and with absolutely no oversight or accountability are Wall Street millionaires.

At the risk of sounding trite, I find it interesting that Florence Thompson didn't want to be defined by the photograph yet had the words "Migrant Mother" engraved on her head stone. I'm not sure what to make of that. It must be terribly difficult to one day be a common person and the next day (or week or month) be the symbol of an entire class of people. It's one thing for a celebrity to achieve iconic status, someone who's used to and probably even sought out the attention. I imaging it's entirely different for someone like you or me. So many ideas and attributes applied to you that you never knew you had.

Plain and simple, that's a fantastic shot. You can take a shot like that out of it's frame of reference -the great depression- and it still works. Simply put, that photo exudes so much emotion in so many subtle ways it will remain an icon for the ages, much the same as The Mona Lisa has.

I had a Migrant Mother of my own.

I'm one of seven children born to Irish parents. They came to England hoping for a prosperous life. It didn't happen. My mother left Ireland alone when she was just eighteen. She was born in to poverty and she died in poverty at 52.

I know the shame that living in poverty brings. I can empathise with Katherine McIntosh, but one thing I envy her of is that she has a photo memory. There was seldom enough money to clothe and feed us all so cameras and film were a luxury they could not afford.

Don McCullin passed my town on his way to Bradford and shot families living in the same kind of poverty that were born into. They're my photo memory and photo memories are very important. I'd love McCullin to return to Bradford to see how things turned out for them.

Lange may have removed Mrs. Thompson's thumb from the photograph, but she left her dignity intact. But did she fully escape hard times?

Mrs. Thompson's family made a public appeal for financial help in order to pay for their mother's medical care. She died a month later, in September '83. It's possible that no amount of money could have saved her from cancer. But to have to appeal for money for treatment so many years after that photograph was taken, saddens me.

You can find some of the iconic photographs from the 30s in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room in the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print - some image files are in high resolution, so in case you have an archival inkjet printer you might easily get some of the best known photographs of the FSA/OWI-Archives right on your wall...

That image is available at the LoC. (Which I think I found out about on this site.) One big scan. I spent hours dust spotting that sucker. The print was worth it.

This picture, along with the iconic picture of W. Eugens Smith's Minamata series and in a different way Nachtwey's mourning Afghan woman are unique testimonials of overwhelming humanity.
The world is different with those pictures, and there is no excuse for looking away any more. For me they are a permanent reminder.

What irony!

"McIntosh, who turns 77 on Saturday ... now cleans homes in the Modesto, California, area."

Think about it. At 4, she was picking cotton and taunted about being unclean. At 77, when most people feel it's their God-given right to be retired and playing bingo or golf, she is still working, cleaning other people's toilets.

All this in the world's richest country. Century of progress? More like century of shame.

Having just gone through a recent new book of Lange's photographs and an account of her difficult life (Maynard Dixon, her 1st husband a womanizer, and many physical health issues), people often forget that the great depression was not that long ago; many of our parents only remember it too well, and the resulting global instability it caused. There have been revisionist attempts to "set the record straight" on this picture, but the clothing and physical condition of the subjects are only too clear. In this recent book D. Lange's pictures come through as high quality images, not cropped but in full content. Exhausted people, greedy farmers, and the near-slavery conditions still existent in the South are clear and shocking. For the wealthy gearheads who have just purchased their latest DSLR, these images should serve as a reality check,
The great item for me is that from teen years on D. Lange wanted to be a photographer, she succeeded, but paid a terrible price. In her later years, her health was poor, the medical treatments painful and she photographed relatively little.

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