These pictures of the railway, across the American mid-west, are by the photographer Dorothea Lange. The pictures were part of a project to document the real-life conditions of the American poor during the great depression of the 1930s.
Photography has been used by social reformers as a way of confronting critics with the reality of the situation on-the-ground. There’s a kind or irrefutable quality of photographic evidence that makes it very useful for these kinds of struggle.
The terrible economic conditions that followed the Wall Street Crash (1927) were exacerbated by a series of political choices and natural disasters. The great drought of the 1930s created a dust bowl that destroyed the viability of many small-holdings. The result was a human exodus towards the west.
For many people, the railway was the only option. If the cost of a ticket was too great; people simply jumped on a freight train.
The HoBo is the migratory worker associated with this peripatetic search for work. The figure of the HoBo is distinguished from that of the tramp or bum in American popular culture by the desire to work and the willingness to up-sticks and move towards employment.
The mobility of labour is a key characteristic of the American economy.