Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange was Full-Blooded Cherokee

“Migrant Mother.” Nipomo, CA., 1936. Credit Dorothea Lange/MoMA

DO you know this FAMOUS photo? “Migrant Mother,” during Great Depression, taken by Dorothea Lange. Seen in books, posters, clothes and so much more.

Would this image be so widely accepted and famous if the truth known? The woman is 100% Full-blooded CHEROKEE from Oklahoma, but photographed in California. Would white Americans have cared about her if they knew that? Would so much money be made from her image if whites knew her background?

New book from MOMA (Museum of Modern Art, NYC): Lange: Migrant Mother.  Sarah Meister, a photography curator at MoMA, wondered if anything new could be discovered about this iconic, mesmerizing photo. Especially when faces of people, fleeing violence and poverty, now in migrant caravans, again dominate the news.

Have you seen the classic John Ford directed, Henry Fonda, John Carradine, Jane Darwell classic film based on John Steinbeck’sGrapes of Wrath“? WATCH it if you have not. This photo more than likely inspired both Steinbeck and Ford

Ford’s Grapes of Wrath is how most relate to this photo. IF they know their movie and American history of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Millions, myself included, have repeatedly seen this photo. Looked it, studied it, wondered what this woman was thinking and feeling. Now knowing what whites have done to Cherokees and all Native Americans adds a layer of depth. 

Have you seen “Wind River“? If you want to know how Native Americans are still being treated, see it. Know anything about Standing Rock protests by the Sioux? Still ongoing as of this writing. Pitting rights of Indian nations and the environment and safety of ALL surrounding this not well-researched oil pipeline versus greedy polluters and abusive oil industry. Now in our courts. 

Photographer Lange didn’t know anything about her subject, Florence Owens Thompson. This is just wow. I always say every picture tells a story. But this story?

What are your thoughts? 

I was alerted to this story via my library online access to NY Times: “Unraveling the Mysteries of Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother. ’ The history behind Ms. Lange’s photograph of Florence Owens Thompson has intrigued academics and photographers for decades. But a new book sheds fresh light on the portrait’s little-explored details.” 

FABULOUS summary of why black and white and other elements which add up to making this a masterpiece (ideas and concepts anyone can use), here’s a quick read: Dorothea Lange and Migrant Mother. Meet the master artist through one of her most important works. 

This photo was created for federal Farm Security Administration. I believe that means it’s in the public domain. BUT you have to use the image from Library of Congress or other public domain sources.

The NY Times article has an image from MOMA. It has a color tint. That’s why I wouldn’t use it. THIS is the image most of us know, pure black and white. 

The federal government commissioned the photo. It’s available to everyone. It’s been used on posters, postcards, tshirts,  a postage stamp, a 1,000-piece puzzle and on trinkets. Trinkets. Hmm … whatta story!

The power of ONE photo. 

(You can read a few free articles from the New York Times each month. Some libraries offer free daily access.)