Early Modern Photography

“Migrant Mother” Series By Dorothea Lange March of 1936 in Nipomo, California.

Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-58355

Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an influential American documentary photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration. Lange’s photographs humanized the tragic consequences of the Great Depression and profoundly influenced the development of photography documentation. “Lange’s stirring images of migrant farmers and the unemployed have become universally recognized symbols of the Great Depression.”^3

“From 1935 to 1939, Lange’s work for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration brought the plight of the poor and forgotten — particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers — to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the country, her poignant images became icons of the era.”^1

I chose this frame of the  “Migrant Mother” series as I had seen it before many years ago, in an old magazine that my mother had. It struck a chord with me then, as it does now.  It is not that they are poor, dirty and hungry, these things are bad enough. The fact that they don’t even have 4 sides to their tent seriously moves me.  Art illicit s feelings, good ones and bad ones, and in this photo for me, sad ones.

Photography underwent huge changes in the early part of the twentieth century. This can be said of every other type of visual art, but, unique to photography is the transformed perception of the medium. It moved from being a credible documentation of  objective evidence for  science from 1850-1900. Photographers struggled for artistic recognition throughout the century. In Paris’s Universal Exposition of 1859,  photography and “art” (painting, engraving, and sculpture) were displayed together for the first time; photography then slowly transformed into an artistic practice by the 1920s

In the sciences photographs had credibility as people could document other people, places, and events. Images too rapid for the human eye to observe could be photographed, this allowed for the  enhancement, or even creation of  new forms of scientific study. As shown in Edweard Muybridge,Thoroughbred bay mare “Annie G.” galloping, Human and Animal Locomotion, plate 626, 1887

In the arts, photography was valued for its replication of exact details, and for its reproduction of artworks for publication. Since art 1s considered the product of imagination and skill, how could a photograph made with an instrument and  chemicals, not a paintbrush and canvas, ever be considered  real art?  “Elite art world figures like Alfred Stieglitz—promoted the late nineteenth-century style of “art photography,” and produced low-contrast, warm-toned images like The Terminal that highlighted the medium’s potential for originality.”^2

Photography is still documenting people, places,  and events. With  improvements to photographic instruments coupled with  education of the photographer, the art of photography cannot be denied. Photo contest for things such as originality, style and placement are everywhere. Photograph exhibits are shown in all major cities covering everything from landscapes to nudes to the stars of the universe. The subjects and styles of photography are just as varied as the visual art of coating surfaces with paint for an  artistic effect. This picture “Tuona – Thunder” is amazing in every detail. Even though it is a photograph it very much reminds me of an Impressionistic painting.

Tuona-Thunder By Cavagna Ottavio, Milano Italy 2005

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothea_Lange

2. http://smarthistory.org/early-modern-photography.html

3. http://www.english.illinois.edu/MAPS/depression/photoessay.htmPopular Photography






  1. 1
    kwichert Says:

    I also love the work that this Photographer did. Her iconic Migrant Mother is a heartbreaking look at the depression. I believe there were five photos in this series each of them getting closer to the tent and the mother and children. The final one shows a close up of the mother with the child in her arms and two of the other children with their backs to the camera but leaning into their mother. The grief on the mothers face leaves you in tears.

  2. 2
    smcoulman Says:

    The first picture that you had on your post did have sad emotions for me also. It has such a powerful impact because these people had to live this way and some people still live this way today. It is sad to look at all their emotions and faces. You see the first lady in front and she just looks like she has given up and the two boys in the background are who caught my eye because one has half a smile on his face and the other looks like he is crying and is in pain. It is sad and just brings so much more emotion to the picture. I liked your blog it was very good and interesting. Good Job!

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