I was given for Christmas a beautiful book of the photographs of Dorothea Lange. Her pictures, particularly of the migrant workers of the Great Depression, are poignant and extremely moving. Leafing through it brought me to tears more than once and no photograph is more impressive to me than Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother.
This is a portrait of a recently widowed mother of seven. She has extraordinary arrestingly powerful beauty. In the frame, she looks slightly away from the camera into the distance. Two of her children are turned away from the camera, their faces buried in her neck.
Of course, there are many levels on which to think about Migrant Mother. I just wanted to share one here. It is striking that this woman, whose name was Florence Owens Thompson, was just 32. Her face is drawn by deep lines. The lines of a much older woman. They do not detract from her beauty. Indeed, they confer some of her considerable dignity. Yet, make no mistake, those lines have been etched by anxiety and exhaustion. Just before Dorethea Lange immortalized her in this portrait, she had just sold the tires of her car to buy food.
All our wrinkles tell our life story. The worries, sorrows, laughter, bad girl years… They are to be celebrated for that. Of course, when I look in the mirror, I bemoan rather than love my lines. But knowing that I am more than 20 years older than Migrant Mother and that none one of my wrinkles are the result of the kind of cruel hardship she has known, gives me a little perspective for 2013.
Happy New Year.