Friday, May 16, 2008

Migrant Mother: Expressive Past

A Picture is worth a thousand words, but what if a picture, speaking for itself and void of explanation, tells only half of a story? Take for instance, the famous photograph, Migrant Mother. In it we see a near starving migrant farmer’s wife staring painfully into the distance as her children cling hopelessly to her sides. It’s difficult to look at the mother in the photo and imagine her ever smiling or laughing. The image is so provoking that we cannot displace her from that time and space of weariness, but yet we feel we know her. We do not. We are witnesses to a moment in Florence Owens’ life, but we do not know Florence Owens. On Mother’s Day, The St. Petersburg Times ran an excellent article about the photo, exemplifying the contrast between Owens’ true persona and the desperate image that encompasses the public perception of her. To her family, to those who really did know her, Owens was far more multi-faceted than the singular moment captured under a tent in a barren field.

The same can be said about our own old family photos. Have you ever stamped a personality to an ancestor based on a picture of them? While there’s nothing greater than putting a face to a name in genealogy, pictures can sometimes be misleading. Take a closer look at your ancestors’ images. What do you see? A scowling, menacing man? A prim and proper young woman? There’s more to your ancestors than meets the eye.

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