Dorothea Lange’s work documenting those struggling through the Great Depression, Dust Bowl and sharecropping system brought her into contact with resilient men and women. This film excerpt from American Masters — Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning opens with Lange speaking with admiration about Tom Collins, the manager of a federal “Migratory Labor Camp” in Kern County, CA, whom she met and photographed. Collins became the model for a character in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). (For more about the real man and character and Lange’s photography, see The National Archives.)
Lange and her husband Paul Schuster Taylor, an economist, both worked for the Farm Security Administration, conducting research and documentation across states. They drove from their home in California to the Southeastern states to not only capture the plight of migrant workers, but also the poverty of those rooted to the sharecropping system.