Photojournalism }

walking in the light: a life in photography

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Forgotten Photographer

I am a fan of nearly all the Roy Stryker-led FSA documentary photographers of the 1930s. A name that slipped by me (and probably many others as well) was Marion Post Wolcott. Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, and the small group of shooters hired by Roy Stryker to document Depression-era America were very familiar--partly because they went on to do further outstanding photojournalism work--but Post Wolcott was not a name I had ever heard of until I read Paul Hendrickson's book in the early 1990s. The book, “Looking for the Light, The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott,” was a revelation. Marion Post, her name at the time, had fallen through the cracks over the years mostly because, as the book weaves her story, she got married and devoted herself to her husband and children.
I re-rediscovered her yet again as I browsed through my library recently. As happens often I started thumbing through the book and had to sit down and read a good portion of it again. It was with a certain sense of loss that I looked again at her wonderful photos collected in the book. I was reminded of how impressed I was with her images the first time I saw them. It was as if Ansel Adams had applied the range of light of his Yosemite images to simple scenes of rural depression-ravaged America. The images glowed with a beauty that seemed to haunt the content. To me, I saw a style and a sensibility that was different from the other FSA shooters. That is not to say that Lange, Parks and the others were somehow less than Post Wolcott. I think they are some of the greatest photographers to ever pick up a camera. But I guess my view of Post Wolcott's photos is colored by a sense of loss, of what might have been achieved had her camera been pointed at post Depression and post War America. That, in fact, is part of the book's thesis.
This is certainly a book worth exploring. We can always learn something from the lives of great photographers. Even if their shooting life ends too soon. Even if it ends by choice rather than death. As with the short, but stellar life of poet John Keats who died in his 20s, we have to be satisfied with what is, not what might have been.