Migrant Mother was originally captured by Lange in 1936 and was taken in Nipomo, California. At the time, Lange was employed by the Farm Security Administration, an organization that was formed to raise awareness of and provide aid to impoverished farmers.
The woman in the photo is named Florence Ownes Thompson, and Lange came across her at a migrant camp in Nipomo that was occupied by field workers whose lives were devastated by the failure of pea crops.
“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction,” Lange said of the image years after its capture.
“I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She and her children had been living on frozen vegetables from the field and wild birds the children caught. The pea crop had frozen; there was no work. Yet they could not move on, for she had just sold the tires from the car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”
The photo went on to become widely circulated and became the symbol of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression.