M I G R A N T   W O R K E R S

Photographer: Dorothea Lange

Imperial Valley, California, February and March 1937
Resettlement Administration

Farmer on the edge of a frozen pea field

Lange reported from the Imperial Valley:  “I was forced to switch from Nipomo to the Imperial Valley because of the conditions there. They have always been notoriously bad as you know and what goes on in the Imperial is beyond belief. The Imperial Valley has a social structure all its own and partly because of its isolation in the state those in control get away with it. But this year’s freeze practically wiped out the crop and what it didn’t kill is delayed–in the meanwhile, because of the warm, no rain climate and possibilities for work the region is swamped with homeless moving families. The relief association offices are open day and night 24 hours. The people continue to pour in and there is no way to stop them and no work when they get there.”

Only one of Lange’s photographs of migrants ultimately appeared in Life. At the end of a six-page spread on the Dust Bowl in the issue dated 21 June 1937, following an optimistic look at new farming practices designed to reduce erosion, the magazine displayed a striking full-page close-up of the man with the defiant glance, cropped from the center of the four-by-five-inch negative. Lange was not credited, although the agency was. Life did not present the unidentified man as a victim of human erosion but called him a “new pioneer” seeking a new life in California. According to Life, his “courageous philosophy” led him to say, “I heerd about this here irrigation. . . . I figured that in a place where some people can make a good livin’ I can make me a livin’.

Ultimately, the photographs and Lange’s story were published.

See:  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fachap03.html


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