You Gotta Know When to Hold Them…
…Know when to fold them,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.
So goes the chorus of the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. I’ve always thought there were plenty of Life lessons in that song, and I was recently reminded of it again while reading Annie Leibovitz at Work. Ms. Leibovitz recounts how Dorothea Lange told the story behind Migrant Mother, the portrait of migrant farmer Florence Owens Thompson and her children, which became her most famous photograph, and an icon of American photography. For those who will read the book, please note that Ms. Leibovitz places this story in 1938, when in reality it took place in 1936.
After spending a month on the road in southern California she was finally heading home. It was raining and she was exhausted and she had a long drive ahead of her. She [Dorothea Lange] has been working up to fourteen hours a day for weeks and was bringing back hundreds of pictures of destitute farm workers. Somewhere south of San Luis Obispo she saw out of the corner of her eye a sign that said PEA-PICKERS CAMP. She tried to put it our of her mind. She had plenty of pictures of migrant farmers already. She was worried about her equipment, and though about what might happen to her camera in the rain. She drove for about twenty miles past the sign and made a U-turn. She went back to the sign and turned down a muddy road. A woman was sitting with her children on the edge of a huge camp of makeshift tents. There were maybe three thousand migrant workers living there. Lange took out her Graflex and shot six frames, one of them of the woman staring distractedly off to the side while two of her children buried their faces in her shoulders.
The image of the woman and her children became the most important photograph of Dorothea Lange’s life and the iconic picture of the Depression.
We cannot be certain of many things, which is why we should follow our intuitions. We never know where they will lead us, but intuitions are the truest manifestations of our real feelings, and the simplest way we can allow ourselves to be…ourselves. Dorothea Lange wanted to fold them, but her intuition told her she should hold them. Needless to say, she was able to walk away, not run.
PS: If you’re wondering what happened to the migrant mother and her children, read here.