Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's day

Mother's day inevitably makes me think of my mother, who died 49 months ago in early April of 2004. This means my mother, who was an Iraqi-American, died roughly a year after the war against Iraq began but a few days before the Abu Ghraib photos came out-- so you could say she was spared that. She was 70, having been born in 1934, which also means that when she was born her native country was ruled by the British, and when she died Iraq was ruled by the US. My mother died a US Citizen, having surrendered her Iraqi nationality voluntarily-- unlike Iraq herself.

Naturally I would wish my mother could still be here, even though I know I was pretty fortunate to have my mother live till I was 40-- needless to say, others aren't so lucky. Mother's day also makes me think of the various things I wanted and still want to do to make her see me as successful and the shepherd of a meaningful life, so that she might be proud.

Also inevitably, Mother's day makes me think of the iconic photo of the migrant mother, taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936(above). Here's some verbiage about it from Wikipedia:

Lange's best-known picture is titled "Migrant Mother". The woman in the photo is Florence Owens Thompson, but Lange apparently never knew her name. The original photo had Florence's thumb and index finger on the tent pole, and was retouched in an attempt to hide Florence's thumb. Her index finger was left untouched .

In 1960, Lange spoke about her experience taking the photograph:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

According to Thompson's son, Lange got some details of this story wrong, but the impact of the picture was based on the image showing the strength and need of migrant workers.

In 1941, Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for excellence in photography. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she gave up the prestigious award to record the forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans (Nisei) to relocation camps in the American West, on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA). She covered the rounding up of Japanese Americans, their evacuation into temporary assembly centers, and Manzanar, the first of the permanent internment camps. To many observers, her photograph of Japanese-American children pledging allegiance to the flag shortly before they were sent to internment camps is a haunting reminder of this policy of detaining people without charging them with any crime or affording them any appeal.

Her images were so obviously critical that the Army impounded them. Today her photographs of the internment are available in the National Archives on the website of the Still Photographs Division, and at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley.

Children at the Weill public school in San Francisco pledge allegiance to the American flag in April 1942, prior to the internment of Japanese Americans.

This photo was taken by Lange in San Francisco 1942, shortly before these kids were to be shipped off with their families to the internment camps. What were they thinking as they stared at Lange's lens? Were they frightened, or curious? Did they even know what was in store at that point?

Labels: , , , ,