May 24, 2009

Iconic images

If you are a Flickr person, then this is pretty cool. The Library of Congress (if you are a Flickr person, you should make it a contact) has uploaded and created a set of "iconic" Great Depression photos.

Included in the set is perhaps the icon of Great Depression-era photo icons, "Migrant Mother," by a hero, Dorothea Lange. A fascinating thing about most of these photographs are the tales behind them. Every picture tells a story, as they say. For example, I love the fact that Lange literally got out of her car, walked towards the woman (a "destitute pea picker" named Florence Owens Thompson) while taking the pictures (six images in ten minutes), then left. That's my kind of photography -- almost guerrilla style. Get it and go! Lange didn't mess around.

Some other interesting factoids about "Migrant Mother":

  • The negative was retouched in the 1930s to erase a thumb holding the tent pole in lower right hand corner.
  • Of Cherokee descent, Florence Owens Thompson was born in a tepee in Oklahoma, 1903. What a broad spectrum of the American fabric she covers!
  • Florence remembered that "when Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath about those people living under the bridge at Bakersfield—at one time we lived under that bridge."
  • Incredibly, Thompson was tracked down in 1978 by a reporter who located Thompson at her Modesto, California, mobile home and recognized her from the 40-year-old photograph.
  • The Wikipedia entry for Thompson has this blurry photo of her and children in 1979:

    Note how she is sitting in a similar pose to the one she was forty-three years earlier in the famous photo. Was she asked to pose this way by the photographer? Or was this just something she did, hoping people would recognize her? For example, would she go to the local mall or park, and assume that pose, wanting to receive attention? Was it just her habit to sit this way? Had she been frozen in this position for forty-three years???.....

    Gilligan said...

    Seeing the iconic photo with the 1979 picture is jarring... I recall a similar story when National Geographic tracked down the Afghanistan girl from their most famous and iconic cover. It was sort of sad, she had such a striking beauty, and now she was aged and wrinkled from a hard life of poverty.

    Chris said...

    It is jarring - that's a good way of describing it. I'm struck in both cases that it was possible to locate the people! That's pretty amazing to me.