The interesting story behind Dorothea Lange's famous "Migrant Mother" photo

In the 1930s photographer Dorothea Lange was hired by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) to take photos of farm workers affected by the Great Depression. She took this photo of Florence Owens Thompson with her children in 1936 in Nipomo, California and titled it "Migrant Mother."

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet," Lange said years later in an interview. "I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction... She and her children had been living on frozen vegetables from the field and wild birds the children caught. The pea crop had frozen; there was no work. Yet they could not move on, for she had just sold the tires from the car to buy food.”

According to Moma, however, "Thompson later contested Lange’s account. When a reporter interviewed her in the 1970s, she insisted that she and Lange did not speak to each other, nor did she sell the tires of her car. Thompson said that Lange had either confused her for another farmer or embellished what she had understood of her situation in order to make a better story."

Image: Dorothea Lange. Public Domain