How would you feel if everything you owned, everything you ever worked hard for was gone? It wasn’t stolen from you, but you sold it… for food to eat. How would you feel if your family was out on the streets because you couldn’t afford to live in your house? The tires on your car were sold; the couch you used to sit on is gone. You’re living a whole new life… a poor life.
In September of 1929, the stalk market began to crash and continued crashing down around everyone until there was nothing left in October 1929. Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, while international trade plunged by more than 50%. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25%. All types of employment were hit hard during this time; heavy industry, construction was stopped, mining, logging, farming suffered as crop prices fell by 60%. All these jobs were no longer jobs. They didn’t exist anymore. Employees were now unemployed. This put people out on the streets with no shelter or food to eat. Banks soon started closing their doors as well. After a few banks closed, the people got scared and withdrew all their money from the banks that were still open, forcing more banks to close. If you didn’t get to the bank to withdraw your money before they closed then you were left with nothing. This was just the start of the depression.
The people suffering because of the depression put much blame on President Hoover. They names many broke aspects of the depression after him; the shantytowns were names “Homerville’s”, newspapers were names “Hoverblankes”, pockets of pants turned inside out to show that they were empty were called “Hover flags” and broken-down cars pulled by horses were known as “Hoover wagons”. When election time came Hoover stood no chance against Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was elected he starts a new program called the “New Deal”. These were different programs that would help jobs reopen and so people can become employed. Although the “New Deal” was a great plan, things did not happen overnight. They took time, which still left people on the streets.
Dorothea Lange was a successful portrait photographer. However, like everyone else the depression affected her. But unlike most people, it affected her in a positive way. She took her camera from the studio out onto the streets. She captured history while it was happening. Lange had many photos of unemployed and homeless people. These photos got her employed by the federal Resettlement Administration, later known as the Farm Security Administration.
In February or March on 1936 Lange was driving in Nipomo, California. She same across a camp where many unemployed and homeless farmers were living. She saw a woman and her children sitting underneath a tent. Lange became to take photos of this woman. In 1960, Lange gave an account of this experience, “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).”
When Lange arrived home she alerted the editor of the San Francisco newspaper to the plight of the workers at the camp. She showed him two of her photos of the migrant mother and her children. The editor informed federal authorities and published an article that included Lange’s image. Once the government got word of this, they sent out a shipment of 20,000 lbs. of food to the camp.
This photo had such a great impact on the country during the Great Depression and it still has an impact on me. I saw this photo many years ago but I never know exactly what this photo really stood for until I took a beginning film photography class. I learned how film photographers didn’t have the luxury of taking as many photos as they like and deleting the ones they don’t like to make room for more with a single press of a button. I got to take my own film photos, develops them, go into the dark room and experience how difficult it is to actually make a decent photo. It takes a lot of hard time and work. In doing these film classes and using these old fashion cameras, I have gained a lot of respect for old film photographers. I think that the most important lesson I learned is that when a opportunity arises you have to take it because it might not be there again. I think that is why Lange turned her car around after fighting with herself for so long. She knew in her heart that this may be a great opportunity to make a difference. As for the picture itself, it taught me not to be selfish and greedy with the things that I have because one day I might not be able to have them again. I learned not to feel sorry for myself when things don’t go as planned. I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, a job and I am in no worry of living on the streets. This photo to me means a lot more than I think that it was meant to. To me photo of the mother and her children show strength, love, support and courage for when times are tough. I feel that everyone might learn a lesson from this photo.