Monday, June 25, 2012

The Power of Pictures

A couple of weeks ago I listed a few professional teaching resources about visual literacy, highlighting the connections between the content areas. Understanding what goes into making a great or powerful image is important to visual literacy, both in creating our own pictures and deconstructing the work of others.
Today’s book, Migrant Mother: how a photograph defined the Great Depression by Don Nardo (973.917 NaM 2011) is a great example of deconstructing what turns a picture, in this case a photograph, into a strong visual statement about something else. 

The picture on the book’s cover is one most of us have seen: Dorothea Lange’s iconic black and white photo of a pensive mother, looking off to one side, away from the camera and three of her children, unkempt and wearing tattered clothes.

It’s easy to see why this is often shown in conjunction with the American 1930s era of economic downturn -- desperate farmers driven from drought stricken farms, smothering dust storms, indigent migrant workers, long bread lines and many, many photos of people looking wrung-out or exhausted, often with little resiliency left –  all of these can be alluded to in this photo.

The book sets it up beautifully. It starts with Dorothea Lange’s motivation for taking on the cause of poor, displaced migrant workers. As a successful studio photographer, she had no need to take on the job other than a desire to make a difference in the lives of these desperate people.  By publicizing their plight, the causes, and the lack of social welfare, Dorothea Lange saw a way to raise awareness across the country and mobilize the government into providing assistance.

The book provides enough information about the Great Depression without too much detail. As expected, more emphasis is on how Dorothea Lange met this woman and the series of photos (a total of six, which surprised me) she arranged to get us to enter into this world of deprivation.  Who the woman is, what her life was like before and after the photograph was taken, her family and her thoughts about the photo are fascinating to read about, too. 

 For such a short book, there is a lot here to show us the significance of this photo and how such a photo became an icon for its time.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from this series.

Check out today's round up of recommended nonfiction children's literature at Capstone Connect.


Tara said...

What a great find! I use this photograph along with some taken by Walker Evans to teach a specific poetry lesson. I find that my students are always arrested by this photograph in particular.

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for informing us about using this in a poetry lesson. I love it when there are cross-curricular connections.

GatheringBooks said...

Oh wow, Tammy, this looks like a powerful book indeed. We're currently doing an Immigrant Experience theme, and am glad that we now have another book that we can hunt down for review. I also have a deep fascination with photographs as my husband loves taking pictures as much as I enjoy post-processing/editing them. I'd look for this one.

Perogyo said...

What an amazing find. I have seen this picture and always wondered what happened to her and her kids. Nice to know I'll be able to find out (hope it's a happy ending).
Migrant, from Maxine Trottier and Isabelle Arsenault, is aimed at a younger audience, but a good reminder that there are still migrant workers around.

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