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During her first few years working for the Farm Security Administration, Marion Post Wolcott captured an anomaly: a moment of golden American optimism in the Louisiana bayou during the Great Depression. The photograph feels like it belongs next to Norman Rockwell's illustrations or Mark Twain's tales, as a classic example of white-picket fence Americana. We imagine fondly the adventures these boys might have plotted together, the wilderness they might explore. Shot with Kodachrome, an early color film, the light in the image appears bright and warm, a strong contrast to the images of the Great Depression that we know.
This contrast, however, was typical of Wolcott's work. She was very empathetic toward the impoverished families and children she was assigned to photograph, changing diapers, picking beans, and helping children wash up as much as she was shooting. As she became closer with each family, she shot their moments of struggle, but also their moments of joy, where life was simply being lived. Wolcott's independent spirit, willingness to lend a hand, and dedication to social and political change gave these families hope in the knowledge that she truly cared and would do her best to help change their circumstances.
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Marion Post Wolcott is best known for the more than 9,000 photographs she produced for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) from 1938 to 1942. She was the first woman offered a full time FSA appointment. Born in Montclair, N.J. her mother, Marion "Nan" Hoyt Post, was an ardent activist for progressive causes working with Margaret Sanger the founder of Planned Parenthood.
Before Wolcott became a government photographer, she was at first a teacher. Moving to New York City in 1936 she then earned her living making photographs for magazines and newspapers. Initially she worked freelance, then as a staff photojournalist in 1937 and 1938, Wolcott broke gender barriers in the newspaper darkroom.
Then she worked for the Farm Security Administration. She covered thousands of miles of the United States with her camera to document and publicize the need for federal assistance to those hardest hit by the Great Depression and agricultural blight. Wolcott also contributed 120 color photographs to the FSA when Kodak provided early samples of Kodachrome film to the staff for experimentation.
Drawing on her social concerns and her artistic vision to illustrate issues that needed redress, Wolcott produced an extraordinary number of images and her occupation challenged many social morés about the propriety of young women living away from the family home and traveling on their own. Her artistry and perseverance have inspired many articles, books, and exhibitions.
- Library of Congress
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