Good Example Of Essay On America From The Great Depression To World War II

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Photography, Family, Lange, Immigration, Migrant, Migration, Parents

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/12


In an effort to minimize the effect of the Great Depression in the rural areas in America, the Farm Security Administration was created to improve the life condition of tenants and poor farmers. The main goal of the FSA was to fight the social and economic inequality that resulted from the economic depression. A Colombia University economist, Roy Stryker, was appointed to lead the historical section of FSA; his job was to present to people in urban areas the way of life of people living in the farm (Ganzel). Knowing the power of photographs in conveying meaning and emotions, Stryker hired several photographers whom he assigned to different parts of the United States to present a visual documentation of rural American life. Two of those who were employed to take the documentary photos were Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.
Both the works of Lange and Evans were focused on the goal to capture the portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression. They depicted how oppressive was the living conditions of the rural poor in American during the 1930s. Social mobility, status and class were one of the themes that can be perceived from the works of these two photographers. Their arts exemplifies the significant role of visual documentation such as photographs, that is, the influence it has to infuse consciousness to the viewer despite the distance, difference in culture, and socio-economic status. The photography of Lange and Evans, including that of other FSA photographers served to the awakening of the conscience of society in terms of the plight of many rural poor. Their works is a form of communication that relates how life was during the great depression and onwards.

The Migrant Mother by Dorothy Lange

She was reportedly concluding a photography trip documenting the condition of migratory farmers when her attention was caught by the subject of what to become one of her most famous photography. Dorothy Lange’s photo of Florence Thompson with her children became known as the “Migrant Mother” (Dorothea): a single photograph that can be interpreted in a thousand ways.
Just like her colleagues who were assigned the task to visually document the plight of rural farmers, Lange aimed to vividly present the circumstances of the poor in most of her subject. She depicted how oppressive was the living conditions of the urban poor in America during the 1930s. While some of her counterparts such as Walker Evans lack the emotional appeal in their portraits, Lange capitalized on the emotional content of most of her photographs. “Dorothy Lange was a woman who gave the lens, a dead machine, unparalleled passion and humanity because she wanted to help alleviate the cruelty of the world” (The Power).
Looking at the Lange’s photograph, “Migrant Mother”, one can immediately see the weariness in the woman’s face. With the knowledge that such portrait was entitled “Migrant Mother”, it can be safely assumed that the three children with her are her children. The photograph was taken with the eyes of the main subject looking far in a distance, and from knowing that she is a migrant, one can have the feeling that she has so much to worry about. The worried face can all explain the uncertainty of the future, and the long struggle ahead. It is to be noted that the photo was taken during the time economic depression, and it can be inferred that the woman’s family must have migrated in search for a positive social mobility. In Lange’s note, it was revealed that the woman was only 32 years old, has seven children and a widower. Her family managed to survive through frozen vegetables, and she had disposed her car tires to have food. It must be the intent of the photographer to show not only of the plight of this woman, but that of the hardships faced by other migrants like her. Florence Thompson, the woman in the photograph, did well in representing the poor through this picture. On the other hand, being a woman, and one who has suffered herself, Lange brilliantly took the picture in a manner that can strongly evoke emotion.

Alabama Tenant Farmer’s Wife by Walker Evans

Though Walker Evans was not as popular as Dorothea Lange, he was able to present pictures that were also able to get the attention of the public on the predicament of the rural poor (The Power). In “Alabama Tenant Farmer’s Wife, Evans took the picture of Mrs. Burroughs. In contrast to that of the “Migrant Mother” of Lange, the photograph seemed to lack emotion. While at first glance, the “Migrant Mother” can tell so much and more, Evans photograph was not able to establish such connection. In the picture, only the upper body was taken, with the model’s face looking straight at the camera. Without knowing anything about the woman, one cannot tell much of her or her plight except on the perception that she must be someone’s wife and mother.
The difference between the two photographs must be due to several factors. One factor to consider is who took the photograph: being a woman and someone who has been suffering from physical defect, Dorothea Lange got the skill to show emotion by just a glance at her works. It is the factor that separates her work from that of other photographers. It is important that the photographer sets his or her style on how to communicate the intended message to the viewer. Another factor that affected the difference in Lange and Evan’s work was on how the photographs were taken. The “Migrant Mother” was taken evoking so much emotion, while that of Mrs. Burroughs was static owing largely to the style of Evans of being a cold and distant photographer. Evans works are often characterized by lack of emotional connection and the presence of static tension leading to the elicitation of beauty through detachment. In “Alabama Tenant Farmer’s Wife, the model was made to stand and look straight at the camera, through close scrutiny, she seemed not to be at eased as can be seen from the narrowed eyes and pursed lips. The portrait of Ellie Mae Burroughs turned out to be one of the greatest photos in American art (Jones).
Upon knowing the story of the subjects in the photographs of Lange and Evans, one cans see the similarity of the two. Both were women who have seen so much suffering from being poor.
The pictures taken by Evans and Lange speak of the unequal social stratification that was so prevalent during the 1930s. The face of Mrs. Burroughs and Florence Thompson as taken by the photographers showed the predicament of people who are suffering due to their lower socio-economic status. The period from the Great depression up to the onset of World War II brought so much suffering among the rural poor as depicted by the many photographs taken by those employed by FSA.


Visual documentaries have been extensively used to present images that needed the attention of the public and the government. Much of the success of documentary photographs lies on the ability of the photographer to seize the scene in its most absorbing form. A photographer may need to employ other materials or objects to further enhance and convey their message. The “Migrant Mother” is one example of such work of art as Lange used the three children to strengthen the message she wanted to express. Evans on the other hand, capitalized on the simplicity of his subject in the portrait of Mrs. Burroughs. Both theses photographers did a good job in presenting the lifestyle of the rural poor during the depression.


Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection: An Overview. The Library Congress. Retreived from
Ganzel, B., Farming in the 1930s. Wessels Living History Farm. Retrieved from
Jones, M., Walker Evan’s Famous Picture of an Alabama Tenant Farmer’s Wife is Celebrated and Explained. Retrieved from
The Power of Photography. Socialism Today. Retrieved from

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