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Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother)
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Dorothea Lange
American, Nipomo, California, 1936
Gelatin silver print
13 7/16 x 10 9/16 in.
98.XM.162

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I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother . . . She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. . . . that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed.

Dorothea Lange's poignant image of a mother and her children on the brink of starvation is as moving today as when it first appeared in 1936. Lange made six exposures of this striking woman, who lived in a makeshift shelter with her husband and seven children in a Nipomo, California, pea-picker's camp. Within twenty-four hours of making the photographs, Lange presented them to an editor at the San Francisco News , who alerted the federal government to the migrants' plight. The newspaper then printed two of Lange's images with a report that the government was rushing in 20,000 pounds of food, to rescue the workers.

Lange made this photograph while working for the Resettlement Administration, a government agency dedicated to documenting the devastating effects of the Depression during the 1930s. Her image depicts the hardship endured by migratory farm workers and provides evidence of the compelling power of photographs to move people to action.