Lange photographed this stretch of U.S. 54 in southern New Mexico while she was employed by the Farm Security Administration. During the Depression, this highway was the west-bound route taken by many families who hoped to find work in California. Upon discovering conditions no better than those they left behind, they often returned east. In “An American Exodus” (1939), published by Lange and her husband, Paul Taylor, this image is accompanied by an observation made by someone they met in the field: “They keep the road hot a goin’ and a comin’ … They’ve got roamin’ in their head.” In the vernacular terms of the moment or in the timeless terms of the photograph, this picture is clearly an invitation to travel.
Dorothea Lange on Photography
While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.
op. cit. in: Nathan Lyons, Photographers on photography: a critical anthology (Prentice-Hall, 1966)