Migrant Mother Sheds Her Wrinkles

I'm still coming across April Fool's Day hoaxes from this year. This one ran in Popular Photography Magazine. The editors of the magazine took a series of classic photographs by masters such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, and then asked (supposedly in all seriousness) 'Can these photos be saved?' They then proceeded to photoshop the images to make them more like what you'd find in modern fashion or entertainment magazines (smoothing out wrinkles, etc.). In the process they transformed Lange's Migrant Mother from a woman burdened down by Depression-era worries into some kind of smooth-faced suburban soccer mom. Readers were outraged. Popular Photography reports receiving hundreds of letters from indignant readers demanding to know how they could dare deface a classic work of art and call it an improvement.

I think this is one of the better hoaxes from this year because, first of all, it was believable enough to actually get people upset (unlike almost all the other hoaxes this year which weren't believable). Also, its premise was completely absurd. At least, it's absurd if you're halfway familiar with the history of photography and the kind of reverence accorded to Lange's photographs, particularly the Migrant Mother. Real photographers would never, ever dream of improving the Migrant Mother by smoothing out her wrinkles.

April Fools Day Photos

Posted on Thu Apr 07, 2005


In a more chaos-causing view the crass nature of the perpetrator(s) of this hoax could easily be seen as in agreement with the origional artistic vision of anti-capitalism. Taking yourself too seriously will always invite the sarcastic lampoons of tricksters and mischief makers regardless of (insert sterotypical bigotry here.) thus in the mind of the satirist the professionals deserved the undue burden of rational thought concerning a popular medium of art.


"Where have you John Lydon?" is a form mocking song lyrics of the pretentious artist who wrote the ballad Mrs Robinson. Now that this sort of openly critical thinking is half way out of my system for the night I just have to get a "white-out" pen and deface my recently aquired shirt depicting the albumn cover for "Dark Side Of The Moon". 😉
Posted by iseethefnords  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  01:24 AM
Pretty good photoshop skills. Although, after studying the two photos side-by-side, the altered one does start to look a bit fake.
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  01:31 AM
I'm with you on this one, Alex. I, too, think this is the best of this year's crop of April Fool's jokes--well, maybe tied with the Scientific American one. That was pretty first-rate, too, AND had a serious point to make.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  02:05 AM
This is definitely one of the year's better hoaxes, and whoever did it had some crazy photoshop skills, let me tell you! Wow!
Posted by PlantPerson  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  04:57 AM
What's really hilarious about the outrage over this practical joke is the mis-placed insistance on some abstract concept of documentary authenticity. Lange shot several poses of the mother (who, admittedly, WAS desitute) and her children, only later selecting the image we are all so familiar with. That image itself was retouched to take out a stray thumb on one side, alter the contrast, etc. as one would with any photograph.
Posted by Todd W.  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  10:58 AM
This is clearly a recreation of the original and not a photoshop. The position of the hand, shirt collar, etc., are all different. It was more likely staged than photoshop'd.
Posted by Dave H  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  11:51 AM
The photo may have been re-posed, but there are WAY too many tiny similarities to believe that it has not been photoshopped in some way.

For example, the hair. How many people can get their hair combed EXACTLY the same way as another picture, with EVERY hair in the same place?

If it was re-posed, the head and hand were still Photoshopped in.

So says Rod, GOD OF LINT!!!
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  12:18 PM
Did anyone ever notice that they encourage older women to pose for pictures with their hand tucked under their chin? I guess it's to make them look pensive and well-thought, but I'm also sure it's to hide their double chin. I wonder if this is common to other cultures beside Ammurrica, like do they pose in France with their hands under their arms to hide the hair? Some of us should hide our armpits because we have double-chins under there too, but you only have two hands, so I guess it's your chin or your pits. Your choice
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  12:42 PM
I think this is pretty doggone funny.
They not only gave her a facelift; they smartened up her outfit, put some highlights in her hair, and deep-sixed those whining kids.

That was, after all, the main problem with the Great Depression, wasn't it-- it just wasn't photogenic enough.

Posted by Big Gary C  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  02:31 PM
The problem with the depression was that everybody was so depressed. They were hungry and people were making them pose for photos with hands covering their hairy houdinis....
Let's hope the 20th century is better than the last one.
Posted by booch  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  05:55 PM
don't hold back, Booch... tell Uncle Hairy what's on your mind
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  05:59 PM
Dave H, I originally thought the same, but some of the features of the recreated photo look way to fake to be real. I think one of features that made me think it was a reshoot, was the angle and close-up of the photo, but then realised that that could be a simple crop and rotate job in photoshop.
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Thu Apr 07, 2005  at  06:59 PM
The other three big photography tricks to make people look younger are (a) photograph them looking up at the camera, with their head tilted upwards, so as to produce a natural 'facelift' and hide blobby chins (b) overexpose, so as to white-out wrinkles and blemishes, and (c) crop off the top of the head, so as to cut out baldness (a tactic used in a lot of the by-line photographs above newspaper columns). Another alternative is to simply use an old photograph, as anyone looking at Steven Seagal's entry on the IMDB will testify (it starts off with "this tall, somewhat boyishly handsome actor", rather than "this overweight, chunky monolith").

Look, Steven, if you're read this, I'm mocking your public image rather than yourself, and 'Above the Law' was great. Don't hit me.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Fri Apr 08, 2005  at  07:44 AM
It's Photoshopped. The reason the positioning is different is because she was rotated into position. It's easier than you think. I could do as good of a job and I consider myself a hack in Photoshop. :coolsmile:
Posted by Yoda  on  Sat Sep 03, 2005  at  05:47 PM
They cropped and rotated it so that the jacket would fit. It's not very likely they would have found a jacket to fit the woman and getting the arm correct, unless they searched for ages, so they had to do some trickery. When they did it like that, they could just move the arm of the jacket to fit the womans arm. At least that's what I believe.
Posted by BestSeller  on  Tue Sep 20, 2005  at  07:16 PM
cool site
Posted by Peter Jones  on  Wed Jun 14, 2006  at  03:11 AM
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