The anxious expression of this mother and the hidden, buried heads of her children make this photograph one of the most memorable, and heartwrenching, images from the period of the American Great Depression of the 1930s. As a result of severe droughts and an economic collapse, thousands of families were driven from their homes by banks and other capitalist institutions. Struggling to find work as seasonal laborers, they harvested the fields and orchards of California for very low wages under miserable working and living conditions. This family’s future was made worse by a failure of a pea crop.
Dorothea Lange had a strong sense of
social injustice, and a great sympathy for the downtrodden. Her poignant
photographs, sometimes brutal in their truthfulness, are collected
in An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1939). Much
more than a mere record of events, Lange’s photos stir the viewer to take
up her cause to improve the lot of fellow human beings.