The power of a picture

There was a great little nugget of information in The Times magazine at the weekend, tucked away in a piece on Dorthea Lange’s famous photograph, Migrant Mother, which became a symbol of the Great Depression.

The picture was taken in 1936, when Lange was working for Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration, which the US President created to carry out rural reform. The photography unit, for which Lange worked, was briefed to take photographs in order to influence public opinion, and took 270,000 images – Lange contributing 100,000.

What a great task, and something which demonstrates how the power of government and the power of media can be used together. Depressingly, today such an initiative would almost certainly be condemned as ‘taxpayer-funded propaganda’. For me, it is a welcome reminder of ambition, of the drive for progress that was characteristic of the 2oth century, and of the truth that we can change the world through our own actions.


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