Sunday, May 13, 2012

Art Analysis: Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother, 1936

I have chosen to analyze the photograph titled “Migrant Mother”. It is a famous piece by Dorothea Lange that was taken in 1936 during the infamous Great Depression in the United States. At first glance, within the photograph you see an image of a woman who looks very tired and worn-out. Surrounding her, there are two small children staying close by her side. However, their faces are hidden from view. You only see the desperation in the face of the mother but not the children. If you examine her face closely you are able to see that she is actually a young women, but the exhaustion has made her look years older than she actually is. There are wrinkles on her face surrounding her eyes and she has a very serious but strong look in her eyes. Along with her tired facial features, her clothing is worn down and her children’s hair is messy. After examining the photo closely you can tell that it is a family and that they are going through some sort of struggle. The actual scenario depicts a woman and her two children at a migrant pea pickers camp in Nipomo, California in 1936 (Curtis 1).
Dorothea Lange is famous for her photographs taken during the great depression. Her photograph “Migrant Mother” was the most documented photograph during the 1930’s great depression (Curtis 1). The photograph clearly shows that the family is in some sort of trouble. Judging by the historical context, the woman is fighting to keep her family alive during a period of hard times in the United States. Dorothea Lange probably took the picture of the women and her family in order to show the struggles that a woman must go through for her family in good and bad times. The stern look on her face represents her strength and loyalty to her family. Dorothea Lange believed that she was a “clinical observer committed to a direct, un-manipulated recording of contemporary event” (Curtis 1). Dorothea Lange is similar to the artist, Adrienne Rich, because she as well stressed the importance of art as “ a breaker of official silences, as a voice for those voices disregarded” (Rich 99). Both Adrienne Rich and Dorothea Lange are similar because their artwork was raw and natural. They represent women that have made a difference to society through their artwork. There art reaches out to people in a way that doesn’t cover up some of the harsh realities of life.
This semester, we have created multiple definitions of the word feminism through our class discussions and analysis. Feminism can be defined as a movement displaying the social inequalities between men and women. Feminist art portrays the experiences women must go through daily. “Migrant Mother” is a good example of feminist art because it shows what a woman is willing to go through for her family. The photograph is untouched and is a raw depiction of the struggles for a woman during the great depression.
The themes of class, gender, and stereotypes are three themes that were discussed often through out the semester and also really stand out in the photograph. The photograph leads you to assume that the woman is a single mother left to raise her children on her own. There are specific gender “norms” that men and women in society face. A picture of a woman with her two children shows that not every family fits into stereotypical family of a two-parent home and the stereotypical gender roles that are associated. The women’s tired eyes, wrinkled skin, and aging face depicts the struggles that women must go through physically and emotionally for their family. The photo can be related back to our reading on Sula, and how all the women in the novel raised their children on their own, without the help of a man (Morrison).
The photograph also portrays a clear distinction of social class issues in the United States. You can tell that the family in the photograph is struggling for survival. The children are close to their mother’s side depicting a sense of security received from her. Her face stands out the most because it shows the worries that some must go through just to survive. “Migrant Mother” shows the people of the United States what the life a migrant worker is really like. It shows what it is like to come from a lower class family in the United States during a period of bad times.
This photograph really stands out as a dominant image of the great depression. In my opinion, Dorothea Lange used this woman to represent all of the women in the 1930’s. It shows that women are just as equally capable to survive through the great depression as men are. The reason she hides the children’s faces is in order to emphasis the importance of a mother caring for her children. Dorothea does a great job portraying historical context of the situation in its natural occurrence. She does not edit the photo to hide what is really going on. I think that as an artist she really stands out for women. She sends a feminist message of what women go through on a daily basis through her artwork.

Work Cited
Curtis, James C. "Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, and the Culture of the Great Depression." Winterthur Portfolio Spring 21.1 (1986): 1-20. Jstore. Web. <>.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. New York: Knopf; [distributed by Random House, 1974. Print.
Rich, Adrienne. "Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts." Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations: 98-105. Print.

By: Gabby Brazeau
Group: Gabby, Grant, Kyu

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