Written from Images is a writing exercise I have decided to adopt. Writing from an image a story emerges using only the details of the image I write a story explaining what I believe must have happened. It is interesting to see if I get any of the details right with the actual story behind the image.
She did not shield herself from the wind though she served as a shield to her two boys, staring at the pile of rubble where her home once stood. Worry shown in her eyes though the lines on her forehead were evidence of many worries that existed in the past. Her clothes already mangled and worn, dirt clung to the necks of her boys and to the material that clothed a baby which she held close to her chest. Resolution seemed distant, it had already been a challenge to keep hunger at bay, but now the little shack that had barely stood no longer remained. She was tired and defeated and though her heart filled with emotion she couldn’t even muster the strength to be angry at God. Hadn’t her family endured enough, with the recent departure of her husband and three mouths left to feed, hadn’t her family endured enough? She had left her parents nearly six years ago, no more talents in her repertoire than washing dishes and ironing clothes. She was swept off her feet and carried away, dreams of a loving marriage and a happy home more than she had ever experienced in her childhood. Her knight and shining armor had passed away last winter and it was all she could do to keep food on the table. Obtaining a job wasn’t likely with three little ones at home with no one to look after them and now she didn’t even have a home. Without an abundance of options all she could do is stare, stare into the rubble praying an answer would emerge. As if frozen in time she and her children did not move, they did not speak and as the sun passed over them they remained a victim of circumstance and hope was far away.
The Real Story:
As era-defining photographs go, “Migrant Mother” pretty much takes the cake. For many, Florence Owens Thompson is the face of the Great Depression, thanks to legendary shutterbug Dorothea Lange. Lange captured the image while visiting a dusty California pea-pickers’ camp in February 1936, and in doing so, captured the resilience of a proud nation facing desperate times.
Unbelievably, Thompson’s story is as compelling as her portrait. Just 32 years old when Lange approached her (“as if drawn by a magnet,” Lange said). Thompson was a mother of seven who’d lost her husband to tuberculosis. Stranded at a migratory labor farm in Nipomo, Calif. her family sustained themselves on birds killed by her kids and vegetables taken from a nearby field – as meager a living as any earned by the other 2,500 workers there. The photo’s impact was staggering. Reproduced in newspapers everywhere, Thompson’s haunted face triggered an immediate public outcry, quickly prompting politicos from the federal Resettlement Administration to send food and supplies. Sadly, however, Thompson and her family had already moved on, receiving nary a wedge of government cheese for their high-profile misery. In fact, no one knew the identity of the photographed woman until Thompson revealed herself years later in a 1976 newspaper article.