The photograph on the left is Migrant Mother by Dorthea Lange. It was taken in 1936.
The photograph on the right is a publicity shot of Joan Crawford, also taken in 1936.
One is a picture of a woman that looks like she works hard, she’s had a hard life.
The other picture appears to be a pampered starlet without a care in the world besides looking beautiful. At first glance they are very different women.
I was cleaning out my office this morning and looking at photographs I’ve collected. I tend toward the realistic, grainy black and white or the glamourous photographs of beautiful places depicting wealth and privilege. There’s not a lot in the middle for me. Typical.
Looking at these two photographs I am struck by the similarities, not the differences. They are both products of their environment and their lifestyle.
We make assumptions about them based on the way they look. We assume the Migrant Mother works hard and does not have time for the frivolities of life. We picture her working her hands to the bone with the furrowed brow, longing for a life of luxury and ease. She looks sad and burdened by her life and life choices. All that from a picture.
Likewise, we assume Joan Crawford is a spoiled, vain, superficial witch. Granted Mommie Dearest feeds into her persona, but that aside, we get all of who she is from this image. She’s never worked a real day in her life. Certainly not as hard as the Migrant Mother.
Is it possible that the Migrant Mother soaks in a bubble bath after a hard day’s work and this photographer caught her on a bad day. Did women during The Depression have even fleeting moments of grace? The Migrant Mother is a famous photograph. It is said she represents the plight of so many people. As a symbol she’s a powerful image. But as a woman, are there any images of her smiling? Looking at her children, realizing she is working hard in the hopes of something better. Are there pictures that show those brief moments of hope?
Is it possible that Joan Crawford puts in 18 hour days at work and used to work as a house cleaner before making it big in Hollywood? Are there photographs of her not smiling seductively into the camera? Times when she realizes she’s a piece of studio meat paraded about for the profit of the big wigs? Are there any images of her with a blemish on her face or crying?
Images are so powerful and particularly images of women. The whole story is supposedly on the surface. I’m not so sure.
That’s all from the laundry room today. Lights off.