Dorothea Lange, Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children, February 1936 [Florence Owens Thompson and her children, Nipomo, California; may actually have been taken in March 1936.] Popularly known as 'the Migrant Mother.'

This is not in any sense an "original print" of this iconic photograph, said to be the most widely disseminated and most recognized American image in the history of photography. Prints with actual provenance are essentially out of circulation, even to big-bucks collectors.You can buy a fiber-based print from the LoC for as little as $90, and they're not bad, but they look a little too much like what they are: prints produced in large numbers from a copy negative.

I just wanted the best representation I could get for my wall, that's all.

I started with the outstanding scan from the Library of Congress from Dorothea Lange's 4x5" Graflex SLR negative, and went to work. First, I researched how the image has been presented in different contexts. I found thirteen representations in my own library, including in the rare book In This Proud Land that was put together by FSA Director Roy Stryker at the end of his life, when he was 80.

I soon determined that there is no one "best" form of this picture. The many representations, even in the best books, are all over the map tonally and graphically, from dark, emotive interpretations to gentle, flat-contrast ones. Furthermore, since the picture was made for the U.S. government and was never owned by Dorothea Lange, there's not really an accepted vintage interpretation by the artist...that I know about, anyway.

So I decided, well, hey, I've been teaching and writing about photographic craft for photo magazines since 1988, and I used to earn my living as a custom exhibition printer. So I figured I'd just wipe my mind clear of everything I'd seen, start from the raw TIFF, and make my own best interpretation. Why not?

(Note that this isn't something you can't do yourself, if you have the equipment, time, and judgment. It might even be fun to make your own print and compare it to mine.)

Bill Ganzel's portrait of the four people in "Migrant Mother" in 1979
(see and hear more at the first link, above).

I started by magnifying the image to spot and repair the negative. Then I began balancing, burning and dodging digitally to get a natural balance. I tried various croppings, again referring to a variety of sources. Then I lived with the picture for a week and a half printed at various sizes and in a couple of different styles.

The interpretation I settled on for this print offer can be characterized by one word: Respectful. Although the end result is fairly heavily manipulated, I tried to stay close to the spirit of the era, the negative (even when fixing the defects!) and away from excessive or exaggerated interpretations.

The print is gorgeous—subtle, detailed, with rich mid-tones and great delicacy. A great way to "own" this important—and beautiful—photograph.

Not limited, but the offer may be withdrawn after a time. Prints will be mailed after Christmas.

GALLERY version. A permanent "carbon on cotton" print (carbon pigment ink on 100% cotton rag paper) in an "ideal" interpretation. Printed on a 9.5 x 13" sheet. Signed as "printed by" on the reverse.

$80, worldwide shipping included.




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