Near Childress, Texas. June 1938. “If you die, you’re dead – that’s all.”
Year after this photo was first published and exhibited, this previously unidentified lady was determined to be a woman named Nettie Fetherston. For more on her, see Nettie Featherston–1938.
The quote used in The Bitter Years exhibition comes from a larger caption that recorded a conversation between Lange and Featherston, “We made good money pullin’ bolls [cotton], when we could pull. But we’ve had no work since March. When we miss, we set and eat just the same. The worst thing we did was when we sold the car, but we had to sell it to eat, and now we can’t get away from here. We’d like to starve if it hadn’t been for what my sister in Enid sent me. When it snowed last April we had to burn beans to keep warm. You can’t get no relief here until you’ve lived here a year. This county’s a hard county. They won’t help bury you here. If you die, you’re dead, that’s all.” (Woman of the High Plains “If You Die, You’re Dead–That’s All.” Inspiring Visions, Artists’ Views of the American West, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)
The Bitter Years, in 1962, was Edward Steichen’s last exhibition as Director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The images in the exhibition were personally selected by Steichen from 270,000 photos taken for the Farm Security Administration by a team of photographers employed between 1935 and 1941 to document (primarily) rural America during the Great Depression.