The Photo Critique and Analysis of Migrant Mother


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Dorothea Lange’s is the mother of seven children and they are migrant agricultural workers. Her husband is a native Californian in Nipomo, California. At the time during the great depression and the Dust bowl life got migrant agricultural workers was extremely hard with the decline in economic stability and overall lack of arable soil. Overly irrigating soil creates unusable soil as all the nutrients leave.

The photo captures a woman who appears to be in her early thirties as well as three children, two with their heads on her shoulders and a baby cradled in her arms. The mother looks distantly away from the camera lense and seems to be in deep thought and is clutching her face. The three children and their mother are wearing drab clothing and seem to be slightly dirty. However, this photo was taken by a 4 by 5 view camera, which requires a large amount of preparation to capture a picture.

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Which leads me to believe that this photo is not one capturing a natural subject, she and the kids are posing and the overall look of the kids is slightly unnatural and the mother posing is evident especially considering multiple photos were taken of the same subjects. While the mother’s pose seems fairly natural, the two larger children’s seems a bit artificial. Children not familiar with a stranger might show their shyness, but these poses seem maybe a little bit too posed.

Lange used a 4 by 5 view camera for these photographs, a camera that usually requires careful preparation of each photograph. But subconsciously most people will probably pick up on the posing aspect. Since most portraits are posed there is very little one could infer from the device itself. Given what we see in the photograph, it seems safe to assume that the children are in fact the woman’s, even though we can’t know for sure. Photographs often contain surprisingly little actual information, yet common sense allows us to come to fairly simple and usually correct conclusions.

We know that this photograph is known as “Migrant Mother”, so assuming that these are in fact not the woman’s children would appear to be quite a stretch.When looking at photographs, all we have is what is contained inside their frames, plus, possibly, whatever additional information the captions might provide. If we think we know something about a photograph that is not visible in the frame and that is not mentioned in the caption, then it’s not unlikely we have come to a conclusion that is not supported by the photographic facts. When looking at photographs the very first thing is to become aware of what we see – and what we think we see. Lange is quite obviously a very good photographer and that is evident through the framing of the work as well as the overall clarity of the photo quality.   

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