While working for the FDR administration in 1936, photographer Dorothea Lange took the following photograph:
You’ve likely seen it before…it’s called Migrant Mother and it’s one of the more famous American photos. When she took the photo, Lange neglected to note the woman’s name (or other details) so her identity remained anonymous while the photo went on to become a symbol of the Great Depression. In the late 1970s, Florence Owens Thompson revealed herself to be the woman in the photo after she wrote a letter to her local paper saying that she didn’t like the image. In an AP story about the ensuing flap, Thompson stated:
I wish she hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”
In addition to not taking her subject’s name, Lange got something else wrong. Thompson and her family weren’t typical Depression migrants at all; they’d been living in California for almost 10 years. Like all photographs, Migrant Mother is neither truth nor fiction but somewhere in-between.