The Icon: Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother
Chapter Three closely examines the most famous visual plea to end poverty. Dorothea Lange’s black-and-white portrait depicting a precarious farmworker during the Great Depression, Migrant Mother, has had a sustained impact on the American consciousness, spurning a host of stories on its production, distribution, and reception. Lemke offers the most comprehensive reading of this particular icon of destitution to date. She discusses the often-neglected visual ambiguity that gives Lange’s photo a titillating aura, while at the same time thwarting a voyeuristic gaze. Unleashing a precarious mode of looking, this famous portrait of a working-poor American becomes textually precarious, which makes it a prototype of precarious representations in contemporary documentary photography.