The photograph depicted below has become known as the “Migrant Mother.” It is one of a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange recorded of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California. Lange gave this account of the 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).
Now fast forward to December of 2011 to a small town just west of Santa Rosa, California known as Sebastopol. It’s name coming from a town in Russia that was under seige by the British in the Crimean War of the 1850’s. The town was demolished during the 1906 earthquake that rocked San Francisco and rebuilt.
It was in this small town that a flashback to Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother” came to me. That old photographed has always been imprinted into my mind.. While vacationing, and driving thorough the streets of the town, my eyes gazed into the eyes of a modern day, migrant mother. She was standing on the corner begging for food with sign in one hand and her young child in the other hand. He clothes were tattered and torn, while her child stood steadfastly, holding onto her hand and squeezing tightly, she appeared to be fearful of an unpleasant verbal exchange with the next stranger. A deja vu came over me, this woman was similar to the one depicted in Lange’s photograph of 1936. After pulling over to the curb and stopping the automobile. her face came out of the shadows and into the sunlight. She stood proudly with her daughter, forcing herself to hold her head erect. Her sun-dried complexion, wrinkled hands, and exhausted looking posture was proof enough that mercy and charity was needed. She reached out to my extended hand; her eyes met mine, money was exchanged, and out of the depths of her soul came a smile of gratitude. Her deliberateness and thankfulness was evidenced by a slow, glowing smile that warmed my heart. A few words of gratitude were shared.
In that moment; face to face, eye to eye, and hand in hand, our connection was deeply moving and emotionally felt. In this random encounter, two strangers became partners in a struggle for human life. This random experience will be remembered forever as an experience of shared humanity between the faces of two strangers living worlds apart. My camera remained in check for the only image recorded that day was developed and imprinted as a part of my soul.