Punctum In Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother

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As a photographer myself, the theory of punctum is not unknown to me; however, the application of the concept of punctum towards the perfomativity of a photograph is unchartered territory. The photograph I chose to analyze is Dorothea Lange’s renowned portrait Migrant Mother, which is a Great Depression-era photograph featuring a migrant farmer, and is among the most famous photographs from this turbulent chapter of American history.
The raw emotion in the mother’s face, paired with her body language and grimy appearance, captivates viewers; however, it is not the mother that makes this image so powerful to me, but rather, the turned away children framing their mother. This detail adds a new dimension to the portrait for me. It makes the image all the more powerful; the irony of the children finding comfort in their mother’s embrace and presence is defeated by the mother’s uneasiness about their present situation. The children do not see the mother’s distressed look, which makes the coziness they feel even sadder. A mother is turned to in times of distress, as evidenced by this portrait, but whom does a mother turn to when she is burdened and overworked? I have turned to my mother many times seeking comfort when problems have arisen in my life, and she has always been there to be that comforting outlet.
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Punctum, Barthes explains, is “that accident which pricks me [Barthes]” (Barthes 27). Punctum is the detail, different to every person, which reaches out and demands the attention of the viewer. To put punctum practically, it would be the lead role tripping at a pivotal moment within a play- a sort of candidness that contributes to the overall performance and how well the audience would recall this same performance. In Migrant Mother, the punctum, as aforementioned, is the turned away children sitting on either side of their
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