In 1936, after Thompson’s car broke down one day, she managed to get it towed into the Nipomo pea-pickers camp, had it repaired, and was just about to leave when Dorothea Lange appeared:

“Thompson was not eager to have her family photographed and exhibited as specimens of poverty, but there were people starving in that camp… and Dorothea Lange convinced her that the image would educate the public about the plight of hardworking but poor people like herself.”

Mrs Thompson did not personally benefit from her photo then or later: “by the time the photo appeared in a local newspaper, [she and] her family had moved on to the next town.”

She had “one of the most famous faces in the United States”. But to keep her family together, she had to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. And not just for a few years: “I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids.”

In contrast, Migrant Mother “made Dorothea Lange’s reputation, helped earn her a Guggenheim fellowship, and conferred fame and a permanent place in the canon of American photographers.”

What does it say about the ‘Politics of Seeing’ that Migrant Mother, “one of the most successful photographs in American history, should have helped so many, but done nothing for the woman whose face and body were able to express so much”?

Thompson “was posing, and she knew why. She was to represent the very Figure of Poverty. So she organised her posture and set her expression just so for Lange’s camera.”

If this is the ‘Politics of Seeing’, then I think it sucks.