Subscribe to Our News, Articles and Competitions

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

~ article by Mia-Daniel Bester

Dorothea Lange is best known and admired for her photograph,  “Migrant Mother” 

Migrant Mother. Photo by Dorothea Lange

“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange


This “brutal” photograph was taken in 1936 by Lange when she returned from assignment, working as a documentary photographer for The Farm Security Administration;  She was assigned to document the improvement of rural conditions that had been severely impacted by federal programmes and left many regions in the country without any provisions for families to survive on… 

Lange was on her way home after completing her assignment when she drove past the sign for the “Pea-pickers camp”.  At first, she did not pay much attention to it but after 20 miles, her conscience left her with no choice but to turn around and investigate the conditions at the “Pea-pickers camp”.  She captured a series of five photographs that day, one, in particular, that would become as the Iconic Photograph of The Great American Depression and be selected by Life Magazine as one of the 100 photos that changed the world.

Here’s what she had to say about photographing the starving family:

”I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother as if drawn by a magnet.  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.  I did not ask her name or her history.  She told me her age, she was 32.  She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed.  She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.  There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.  There was a sort of equality about it.  The pea crop at Nipomo had frozen and there was no work for anybody. But I did not approach the tents and shelters of other stranded pea-pickers.  It was not necessary;  I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment”.

The image of the Migrant Mother stirred the hearts of Government Officials as well as the public – which left them compelled to provide aid to the desperate cause and the suffering people.


Download Migrant Mother

You can now download a full resolution scan of “Migrant Mother” directly from the Library of Congress for free at

Were you inspired by this phenomenal photographer’s story and how her photography altered the history of photography and touched our lives?  Subscribe to DPC and receive our monthly, info-packed newsletter and other photography tips, tutorials and guides

About the Author:

Leave A Comment