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A Microcosm Untouched by Time

Marion Post Wolcott’s Photographs of ‘Gold Avenue,’ 1939–1941
Laure Poupard
Traduction de James Gussen
Cet article est une traduction de :
Un microcosme hors du temps

Résumé

In 1939, Marion Post Wolcott, a young photographer recently hired by the Farm Security Administration, traveled to Florida for several months. She quickly developed a special interest in the region’s striking contrasts: along the coast, the camps of migrant workers and the fields devastated by drought formed a strange backdrop to the little beach towns and rich tourists fleeing the winter. Thus was born the project ‘Gold Avenue,’ a series of photographs of Florida’s affluent tourists. Today, some of these images are among Post Wolcott’s most famous works. They are often hailed as the embodiment of an originality peculiar to the photographer, proof that she represented a ‘shining exception.’ Yet their popularity was very late in coming. Critics and researchers were long unaware of the project as a whole. It was not until the late 1970s and the first exhibitions of Post Wolcott’s work that the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ were discovered. The author studies the impact and importance of this belated discovery in the history of Post Wolcott’s critical reception.

Texte intégral

The author wishes to thank Olivier Lugon and Clément Chéroux.

  • 1 This was one of Marion Post Wolcott’s first major assignments as an official member of the historic (...)

1In 1939, Marion Post Wolcott, a young photographer recently hired by the Farm Security Administration (FSA), traveled to Florida for several months to photograph the winter harvest.1 Florida had not yet been extensively explored by the photographers of the FSA’s historical section, likely because Florida was less directly affected by the economic crisis. For Post Wolcott this was the initial stage in her discovery of the American South. On this first trip to the state, she became especially interested in its striking contrasts. The coast, the camps of migrant workers who had come down to Florida for the harvest, and the fields devastated by the drought and prolonged cold formed a strange backdrop to what had long been the source of the state’s wealth and reputation: the small seaside towns and rich tourists fleeing winter.

  • 2 Marion Post Wolcott, letter to Roy Stryker on or around January 13, 1939 (Roy Stryker Papers, micro (...)
  • 3 Marion Post Wolcott, letter to Roy Stryker on or around January 12, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2 (...)

2Since the harvest was late in starting, Post Wolcott left the rural areas to spend a few days in Miami, the state’s principal tourist town: ‘Decided to stay in Miami for Sunday – take a swim, lie in the sun and sand for an hour or so, and photograph the tourists and idle rich at play.’2 In a letter to Roy Stryker, director of the FSA’s photographic unit, she describes her fascination with the rituals and symbols of the American upper class and the ‘wonderful contrast’3 represented in the wealthier enclaves of the South. In January 1939, while photographing some of the beaches and villas of Miami, Post Wolcott conceived the plan for a series of documentary photographs that would later be known as ‘Gold Avenue.’ The circumstances surrounding the genesis of the series are unclear. With the exception of a few lines, she never returned in her letters to her interest in this affluent world.

  • 4 The Bitter Years was the title chosen by Edward Steichen for his exhibition of photographs from the (...)
  • 5 Roy Stryker, letter to M. Post Wolcott of January 13, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2).

3The project was daring, even risky: white and wealthy America seemed in every respect to be the opposite of the America generally depicted by the FSA, whose efforts were wholly devoted to describing a rural world that was reeling from the economic crisis and rapidly descending into poverty. And yet, in 1939, despite that Post Wolcott’s budding interest in the American upper class represented a departure from the norms and broad themes established by Stryker and his photographers – the FSA is primarily remembered today for its images of the ‘bitter years’4 – she was encouraged by Stryker to carry out her plan: ‘I am sure that you can find plenty of other things to work on while you are waiting for [the] actual harvest to start. A little of some of the tourist towns, which will show up how the “lazy rich” waste their time; keep your camera on the middle class, also.’5 Stryker appeared to be just as fascinated by these celebrated contrasts as Post Wolcott herself.

  • 6 Following the lead of Marion Post Wolcott herself, who uses the phrase in 1939 in a letter to Roy S (...)

4Post Wolcott’s few days in Miami formed the point of departure for what is now regarded as one of the most interesting photographic works of her brief career. The result is 166 images taken first in 1939 and then in 1941, when she made a second trip to Florida. This series, which today is unofficially known as ‘Gold Avenue,’6 represents one of the richest and most comprehensive sets of images that Post Wolcott produced for the FSA. Above all, it constitutes the only real documentation of the lifestyle of the upper class in the agency’s entire photographic output, which numbers nearly 270,000 images.

Critical Reception

  • 7 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York: Viking Press, 1939).
  • 8 James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941).

5Far from John Steinbeck’s mythic characters7 and the heroes of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,8 the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ depict the everyday lives of the rich property owners and rare wealthy tourists of the seaside towns of Miami and Dade City (1939) and Sarasota (1941); they sketch the portrait of a society that seems totally indifferent to the current crisis. At a time when the country was going through a period of major socioeconomic transition and being transformed in an era of crisis and massive industrialization, the handful of upper-class microcosms immortalized by Post Wolcott were impassive both in the face of the changes then underway and the threat of war. They seem to be from another age, fragments of a vanished and improbable world that has nothing in common with the precariousness and economic insecurity generally depicted by the FSA.

  • 9 In chronological order: James Elliott, ed., and Marla K. Westover, Marion Post Wolcott: FSA Photogr (...)
  • 10 J. Welpott, ‘Trip the Light,’ in Marion Post Wolcott: Trip the Light, exhibition catalogue, Robert (...)
  • 11 It is worth pointing out that the popularity of the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ concerns a very sm (...)

6Today, a few of these images of Florida’s middle and upper classes are among Post Wolcott’s most famous works. ‘Guests of the Sarasota Trailer Park, Picnicking at the Beach,’ taken at the Florida shore in winter 1941, now stands as one of her most iconic images ; it is featured on the covers of two important biographies of the photographer, those by Jack Hurley and by Paul Hendrickson.9 The quiet charm of these four figures – the profile of a well-dressed woman wrapped up in the spectacle of the sea; the stately black automobile, symbolic mirror of a modern, middle class America – seems to have become the embodiment of a ‘shining exception,’10 an originality peculiar to the photographer, which her principal admirers have all sought to highlight. But the popularity of some of the images of ‘Gold Avenue’ was late in coming.11 For a long time, the entire series was unknown to critics and researchers, and lay forgotten among the mass of images in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington. It was not until the late 1970s and the first round of exhibitions devoted exclusively to her work that the images of ‘Gold Avenue’ came to the fore.

  • 12 See J.F. Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography i (...)
  • 13 For a list of books on Post Wolcott, see note 9. Articles from the same period include: Joan Murray(...)

7In the reception of Post Wolcott’s work, the years 1970–80 mark the era of a genuine rediscovery. While the photographer had already received a few scattered mentions in books and exhibitions about the FSA,12 it was not until 1978 with her first solo exhibition at the University of California, Berkeley, that the full extent of her work for the agency was revealed, and the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ were discovered. This was followed in the 1980s by a series of solo exhibitions and the subsequent publication of biographical essays and books13 in which the portraits of Florida’s wealthy elite figure prominently.

  • 14 J. Welpott, ‘Trip the Light’ (note 10), 2.
  • 15 S. Stein, ‘Introduction,’ in Marion Post Wolcott: FSA Photographs, ed. James Alinder (note 9), 1.

8Critics at this time lauded the singularity and tremendous audacity of a photographer whom they regarded as ‘a mystery figure in the FSA scheme of things.’14 Sally Stein, coauthor of a book on Post Wolcott, points to the images of Florida as indisputable evidence of a ‘provocative departure’15 underlying her work. The photographs of affluent tourists wintering in Florida gradually evolved into the emblems of a nonconformist position, a singular political and social activism specific to the photographer.

  • 16 Stryker’s documentary section had been created with the primary aim of promoting the agricultural r (...)
  • 17 Jack F. Hurley writes in this connection: ‘It has been implied that Stryker called her off the idea (...)

9In itself, the fact that the Florida photographs gained their popularity so late is not an indication that they were singled out for special treatment. Today, it is safe to say that there is still much to be discovered in the vast collection of photographs that Stryker and his unit assembled over a nearly eight-year period (1935–43), and further ‘treasures’ of the FSA will resurface in years to come. It is also to be hoped that we will no longer be limited to the same small sample of well-known photographs in future publications on the agency. And yet as Sally Stein has argued, the case of ‘Gold Avenue’ is more complex: these images of Florida were not simply the unfortunate victims of a general disregard. They had, in the past, been systematically ignored by books and exhibitions on the FSA for the simple reason that they posed a threat to the delicate balance of the agency’s documentary undertaking and, indeed, to the agency itself, which was constantly under fire from conservative critics. In short, Stein argues, ‘Gold Avenue’ was a kind of anti-propaganda, a dangerous and embarrassing exposure of the inequalities sustained by the very same white and wealthy elite to whom Stryker’s publicity campaign was addressed.16 Because they were too polemical, the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ were deliberately marginalized within the agency’s collection.17 By an irony of fate, it was for this very reason that they later became the focus of attention.

From Patriotic Idealization to Militant Nonconformism

  • 18 For example, The Bitter Years, 1935–1941: Rural America as Seen by the Photographers of the Farm Se (...)
  • 19 J.F. Hurley, Portrait of a Decade (note 12), 100.

10By asserting the importance of the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ as indisputable proof of a certain ‘insubordination’ or, at the very least, a nonconformism peculiar to the photographer’s work, Post Wolcott’s first biographers were attempting to overturn a critical discourse that was only too well established at the time. Since the 1960s, when the first large retrospective exhibitions on the FSA were mounted,18 Post Wolcott had often been defined as the exponent of a romantic and naïvely positive discourse that was wholly uncharacteristic of the history of the documentary undertaking. Post Wolcott – whose brief career was, for historians, still confined to her four years working for the FSA – was regarded as ‘a city girl, the product of a fashionable home’ and recognized for her unique ‘capacity to capture the lyricism of the land,’ for her ‘deep love for the good earth.’19

  • 20 Roy Stryker, letter to Marion Post Wolcott of February 27, 1940, quoted in J.F. Hurley, Marion Post (...)
  • 21 Marion Post Wolcott, quoted in Joan Murray, ‘Marion Post Wolcott: A Forgotten Photographer from the (...)
  • 22 The popularity of these snow-covered landscapes among those who embraced this discourse probably ow (...)

11And indeed, among the small number of Post Wolcott’s images that were regularly featured in collective exhibitions and catalogues on the FSA, a series of snowy New England landscapes produced in the winter of 1940 stood as visible proof of this tendency toward idealization. The famous ‘snow scenes’ – a term used by Post Wolcott herself to refer to these photographs – were taken at the request of Roy Stryker, who wanted photographs of ‘real good winter scenes’ in New England, which had thus far been ‘neglected’ by the collection.20 Through these images, commissioned at a time when the photographers of the FSA had for five years been documenting the effects of the economic crisis, Post Wolcott found herself called upon to help effect a significant change of direction at the historical section: ‘The war was coming and the FSA was changing its emphasis. People wanted to see the positive as well as the poverty side,’ she said of the transition that the FSA had carried out since she had joined the organization.21 The images in question show peaceful, snow-covered little towns immobilized by the cold. These still and icy New England landscapes seem worlds away from the crisis and its agonies, protected from the threat of war and the major changes to come. Despite the fact that these snow scenes constitute only a tiny portion of the enormous collection of photographs assembled by Post Wolcott for the FSA, their popularity helped to establish her as the photographer of a romantic and naïvely idealized beautiful America.22

12From outmoded sentimentalism to anti-bourgeois activism, the history of the reception of Marion Post Wolcott is marked by contradiction. It would seem that the belated rediscovery of the images of ‘Gold Avenue’ represents a moment of transition, a fundamental turning point in the artist’s historiography. The prominence given to a few of the images of the Florida of the wealthy in books and articles of the 1980s was tantamount to a refutation of the other, romantic discourse, and represented the virtually unanimous celebration of a powerful element of social and political protest in the work of the photographer.

13This rift or discrepancy within the story that has been told about Post Wolcott raises a question: how is one to reconcile the story of this naïve young photographer of ‘America the beautiful’ with the cold and disenchanted chronicle of Florida’s affluent elite? These representations seem to be – and have been described as – inherently antagonistic, but despite this the two can be seen to enter into a kind of complementary relationship that occupies a common space in the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue.’ Patriotic idealization and activist critique join forces and overlap within this series on the Florida of the wealthy. I argue that an analysis of the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ – including both series from 1939 and 1941 – shows that this contradiction was actually a result of critics and audiences only being acquainted with a portion of Post Wolcott’s production or else of having an overly simplistic understanding of the role of her production at the historical section.

The Other Side of the American Dream

14In the caption to one of her most important photographs for ‘Gold Avenue,’ Post Wolcott noted that it depicts what appears to be a summer day in the middle of winter. She later chose the title June in January for one of her first series of photographs of Miami from 1939. Post Wolcott photographed from a distance. From afar, she observed the most mundane and ordinary aspects of the everyday life of the local upper class. Scenes repeat themselves: here and there, men get together for a game of checkers, while others sunbathe, stretched out on their deck chairs like motionless white statues. Post Wolcott favored vues d’ensemble and often seems to be evading her subjects. Very early on, she appeared to break free from the documentary precepts and norms (frontality, neutrality) established at the time by Walker Evans, whose work she nonetheless claimed to admire. Hers were low-angle shots, accentuating contrasts; she developed her compositional techniques in search of a formal beauty that would transcend the mundane and static quality of the scenes she photographed. With her Leica, she captured interactions as they arose, in various circumstances and locations. In February 1939, she produced a series of photographs entitled Horse Races, Hialeah Park, in which she indefatigably documented the gestures, conversations, dresses, and hats in minute detail.

  • 23 Roy Stryker, letter to Marion Post Wolcott of February 13, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2).

15‘I think you are taking too many exposures of a particular subject … You have a tendency to take more exposures of a particular thing than should be necessary,’ Stryker told her.23 The director’s remarks contain a tacit allusion to the fact that Post Wolcott was, at this time, still a relatively inexperienced photographer; in the same letter, Stryker mentions a number of problems with focus. Among the images produced by Post Wolcott in winter 1939, some are illegible, while others are redundant or not especially interesting. In addition to her relative lack of experience, the photographs of June in January also point to a certain insatiability. This tendency to amass a large number of shots also suggests a strong interest in detail, in the mundane and incidental. Through repetition, the most commonplace and ordinary phenomena take on a deeper meaning; it is also through repetition that the notion of contrast is fully developed. Thus, for Post Wolcott the beaches of Miami and the racetrack at Hialeah Park – the high society meeting place par excellence – are opportunities to isolate the wealthy in the midst of their communal stereotypes, with their standards and collective rituals. In these photographs, the world of the upper class is reduced to its most conformist dimension: the specificity of gestures and interactions is dissolved in the mass of the similar, so that every scene and each individual photographed helps to define the essence of a system or social class.

16Few of these images deal directly with the famous contrast that had so fascinated the photographer on her first trip to the coast. Only two of them explicitly depict the clash of social and racial inequalities. In ‘Palm Beach Florida. A Street Corner,’ a black rickshaw driver sits in the saddle and waits before a luxury clothing store. Behind him, two women examine items in the shop window, while further away a man in a suit emerges from the open door of a large automobile. In the background, the tall palm trees of Palm Beach evoke the exoticism of Florida and its mild winter weather. In ‘Employment Agency, Miami Florida,’ a young black woman is seen walking out of the door of an employment office, a modest structure in a poor neighborhood of the city. It is the juxtaposition of images such as these – which themselves are not unusual in the larger context of the FSA’s collections – with those of a more fashionable Florida that highlights the contrast of two worlds: that of a white and prosperous America, and that of the victims of an America which is ruthless, segregationist, and deeply individualistic.

  • 24 Before beginning her work in the field, Post Wolcott spent several months carefully examining the F (...)
  • 25 Roy Stryker, letter to Marion Post Wolcott of May 8, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2).

17In 1939, such aesthetic and ideological slants reflected the photographer’s search for an identity of her own within the group.24 Nevertheless, on this first trip to the South, Post Wolcott was unable to devote herself fully to ‘Gold Avenue’ and complained to Stryker that she was overloaded with work: ‘This doesn’t include any time for migrants in either Florida or any other state in this region … Nor any time for the Gold Avenue.’25 It was only during a second trip along the Florida coast in 1941 that Post Wolcott finished the project she had begun on the beaches of Miami.

A Microcosm Untouched by Time

18When she returned to Florida in 1941, Post Wolcott dealt exclusively with the life and daily routines of the seaside resort town of Sarasota, which was, to a large extent, populated by tourists. While none of the photographer’s letters from this time refer to her work in the region, it appears that Post Wolcott devoted herself to documenting this little oasis cut off from the rest of Florida and continued her work on ‘Gold Avenue,’ as she had said she wished to do some time before.

19In 1941, on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, the hope that had begun to reemerge in the United States was clouded once again. In Sarasota, however, the swimmers and visiting tourists seem to be unaware that a new crisis was imminent. The photo­grapher tirelessly captures her subjects swimming, strolling, and playing games, and documents the most routine aspects of life in the village, from reading the mail to church services, from bingo games to evening dances. In one of the most famous photographs of this series, a man is shown sitting in a deck chair engrossed in an issue of Life magazine; on the cover, a photograph of a soldier reminds us of the inexorable approach of the conflict. In addition to Post Wolcott’s veiled allusion to the power and growing importance of photography in modern culture – embodied by the success of Life and the FSA – the portrait of the man with the magazine symbolizes, above all, the great isolation and the distance that separates and protects this middle class oasis from the rest of the world. Once again, Post Wolcott’s photographs take on a special significance in view of the social and historical context in which they appear. Through the contrast between their own ordinariness and the images of a society in crisis, they implicitly point to a major rift in American society. Whether it be through an allusion to the war – explicit in the portrait of the man with the magazine – or the more implicit reference to economic hardship, the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ derive their power from the evocation of a contrast.

20If the specificity of the images of Florida lies in their highlighting of a contrast, the meaning of that contrast proves more difficult to define. While Post Wolcott’s admirers regard ‘Gold Avenue’ as proof that there was a polemical dimension to her work, the rediscovery of the Sarasota photographs seems to temper the radicalism of that interpretation. The photographs taken on this second trip to Florida are tinged with an intriguing quality of stillness and peace, a lightness and carefree atmosphere more reminiscent of the photographs of New England than the images of Hialeah Park or ‘Palm Beach Florida. A Street Corner.’ Among the dozens of images devoted to Sarasota, few seem to spring from a desire to accuse or expose. Instead, by its nature as a microcosm, the small town seems to offer itself to Post Wolcott as a true documentary case study, the ‘scale model’ of an ossified world and a society that is fated to disappear. Through a meticulous observation of everyday gestures and shared symbols (the automobile, for example, is a recurring feature of the Sarasota photographs), Post Wolcott depicts an America untouched by time or by the crisis, a fragment of the culture and everyday life of the American middle class to which, it might be added, she herself belonged.

Documenting the Present and Preserving It for the Future

21‘Gold Avenue’ is fraught with ambiguity. While pointing to the existence of a chasm in American society, it also demonstrates a kind of fascination or premature nostalgia in a paradoxical blend of activist critique and wistful emotion. This raises the question of the nature of Post Wolcott’s undertaking. How can one seek to immortalize the values and symbols of a society one wishes to reform?

  • 26 This contradiction is pointed out by Olivier Lugon in Le Style documentaire. D’August Sander à Walk (...)

22This contradiction is symptomatic of a larger problem that is inherent in the development of the documentary genre during this period, a contradiction that marks the history of that genre. While American documentary discourse from Hine to the FSA was largely driven by a reformist ambition – the desire to expose social problems and impel society to correct them – its orientation was also defined by another intention that was equally fundamental: the desire to preserve.26 Preservation demands that images function as tools in a long-term project conceived as a historical mission, not strictly a pedagogical one. Future value and usefulness must be central considerations from the very beginning to produce a true documentary legacy, one that could serve as an unparalleled source of information.

  • 27 Marion Post Wolcott, notes for the lecture ‘Women in Photography,’ Syracuse, 1986, preserved in the (...)
  • 28 Roy Stryker, interview with Richard Doud, October 17, 1963, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian I (...)

23At the FSA, this ambition was expressed as a desire to expand the documentary field, to represent American culture rather than rural poverty alone. Within this context, the historical section was envisaged as the impartial witness to its time, as the privileged spectator of an age. It preserved fragments of vernacular culture and sought to record the image of a civilization in tremendous flux, safeguarding it intact for future rediscovery. Post Wolcott was especially interested in this relationship to the future: ‘History, which will affect this and many generations, is being made, is right out there. A record of it might help, be useful in an old, new world.’27 The desire to record and document the present to better serve future generations, to immortalize history and hand it down in the form of images, was a dream shared by all the exponents of documentary photography between the wars. Twenty years after the FSA was disbanded, Roy Stryker observed: ‘The Farm Security file is a pretty broad file. Maybe we’ll find a lot of things to utilize … I think time will have to operate there.’28

24The prospect of a later rediscovery of visual documentation has proved decisive in the case of the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue.’ While the images of the Florida of both the wealthy and the middle class enjoyed a certain popularity in the 1980s when Post Wolcott’s work was researched and published, they did not have that impact when first produced. They contradicted the promotional and propaganda mission of the FSA’s historical section. Sally Stein expressed it well: the images of ‘Gold Avenue’ could not be published or exhibited in the 1940s because they posed a threat to the very survival of the section. In reality, the critical and activist dimension of the Florida photographs was only revealed in the context of a belated rediscovery, nearly forty years after the disbanding of the FSA.

25While ‘Gold Avenue’ undeniably contains powerful elements of social and political protest, the entire project – those elements included – forms part of a historical mission, an undertaking that attempted to preserve a world that was doomed to change irrevocably. It exposes the passive indifference of the wealthier members of society at the same time as depicting the humanity of the most mundane and ordinary scenes of the everyday life of the middle and upper classes. It is this anticipation of a certain demise – a demise which these photographs themselves worked to hasten – that occasioned the paradoxical meeting of activism and sentimentalism in the photographs of Marion Post Wolcott.

Notes

1 This was one of Marion Post Wolcott’s first major assignments as an official member of the historical section of the FSA. She had been hired by Roy Stryker in 1938, at a time when her professional experience was still relatively limited, up to that point consisting of a year spent working for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin.

2 Marion Post Wolcott, letter to Roy Stryker on or around January 13, 1939 (Roy Stryker Papers, microfilm, reel 2, Library of Congress, Washington DC – hereinafter referred to as RSP/LC).

3 Marion Post Wolcott, letter to Roy Stryker on or around January 12, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2). She writes: ‘There are also those famous gardens and estates near there – a wonderful contrast. I wanted to get some nice juicy shots of them and a few of the big homes around Summerville.’

4 The Bitter Years was the title chosen by Edward Steichen for his exhibition of photographs from the FSA at MoMA in 1962: The Bitter Years, 1935–41: Rural America as Seen by the Photographers of the Farm Security Administration.

5 Roy Stryker, letter to M. Post Wolcott of January 13, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2).

6 Following the lead of Marion Post Wolcott herself, who uses the phrase in 1939 in a letter to Roy Stryker (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2) to refer to the sumptuous villas and upper class neighborhoods of Miami, which she photographed at the beginning of her trip. The author Jack Hurley was the first to employ it more generally to refer to all of Post Wolcott’s photographs of the Florida of the middle and upper classes; see Jack F. Hurley, Marion Post Wolcott: A Photographic Journey (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 69. In this essay, I use the term ‘Gold Avenue’ to designate all of the photographs of this social milieu taken by Post Wolcott on her two trips to Florida in 1939 and 1941. Thus, ‘Gold Avenue’ here refers to both the series she photographed in Miami and Dade City (1939) as well as those she produced in Sarasota (1941), since all of them focused on Florida’s middle or upper classes.

7 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York: Viking Press, 1939).

8 James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941).

9 In chronological order: James Elliott, ed., and Marla K. Westover, Marion Post Wolcott: FSA Photographs (Berkeley: University of California Art Museum, 1978); David Turner, Marion Post Wolcott – FSA Photographs and Recent Work (Amarillo, TX: Amarillo Art Center, 1979); James Alinder, ed., Marion Post Wolcott: FSA Photographs, introduction by Sally Stein (Carmel, CA: Friends of Photography, 1983); J.F. Hurley, Marion Post Wolcott: A Photographic Journey (note 6); Paul Hendrickson, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott (New York: Knopf, 1992).

10 J. Welpott, ‘Trip the Light,’ in Marion Post Wolcott: Trip the Light, exhibition catalogue, Robert B. Menschel Gallery, Syracuse, NY, September 12–October 12, 1986 (New York: Light Work Publications, 1986), 3.

11 It is worth pointing out that the popularity of the photographs of ‘Gold Avenue’ concerns a very small portion of the work as a whole. The choices of Post Wolcott’s critics and exhibitors have tended to center on a handful of photographs, which are widely published and exhibited today. Among the most widely published are ‘Guests of the Sarasota Trailer Park, Picnicking at the Beach’ (1941), ‘Horse Races, Hialeah Park, Miami Florida’ (1939), and ‘Winter Visitor Being Served Brunch in a Private Beach Club, Miami Florida’ (1939).

12 See J.F. Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1972); R. Stryker and Nancy Wood, In this Proud Land: America 1935–1943 as Seen in the FSA Photographs (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1973); Hank O’Neal, A Vision Shared: A Classic Portrait of America and Its People, 1935–1943 (New York: St Martin’s, 1976).

13 For a list of books on Post Wolcott, see note 9. Articles from the same period include: Joan Murray, ‘Marion Post Wolcott: A Forgotten Photographer from the FSA Picks Up Her Camera Again,’ American Photographer 1, no. 3 (March 1980): 83–87; Paul Raedeke, ‘Interview with Marion Post Wolcott,’ Photo Metro, San Francisco, no. 7 (February 1986): 2–17; P. Hendrickson, ‘Double Exposure,’ Washington Post Magazine, January 31, 1988, 12–25.

14 J. Welpott, ‘Trip the Light’ (note 10), 2.

15 S. Stein, ‘Introduction,’ in Marion Post Wolcott: FSA Photographs, ed. James Alinder (note 9), 1.

16 Stryker’s documentary section had been created with the primary aim of promoting the agricultural reforms of the New Deal to Congress and public opinion.

17 Jack F. Hurley writes in this connection: ‘It has been implied that Stryker called her off the idea [of photographing the ‘idle rich’] fearing that her work might offend powerful people, but there is no evidence in the letters or papers to support this. In fact the entire FSA and its photo file were offensive to many powerful people.’ J. F. Hurley, Marion Post Wolcott: A Photographic Journey (note 6), 44. Indeed, it would seem that any suggestion at least of internal censorship is refuted by Stryker’s own words.

18 For example, The Bitter Years, 1935–1941: Rural America as Seen by the Photographers of the Farm Security Administration, Edward Steichen curator, Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 18–November 11, 1962; Just Before the War: Urban America from 1935 to 1941 as Seen by the Photographers of the Farm Security Administration, Newport Harbor Art Museum, New York, September 30–November 10, 1968; FSA Photographers, Witkin Gallery, New York, 1976.

19 J.F. Hurley, Portrait of a Decade (note 12), 100.

20 Roy Stryker, letter to Marion Post Wolcott of February 27, 1940, quoted in J.F. Hurley, Marion Post Wolcott: A Photographic Journey (note 6), 71.

21 Marion Post Wolcott, quoted in Joan Murray, ‘Marion Post Wolcott: A Forgotten Photographer from the FSA Picks Up Her Camera Again’ (note 13): 86.

22 The popularity of these snow-covered landscapes among those who embraced this discourse probably owes much to Sherwood Anderson’s novel Home Town, in which a number of them were reprinted. See Sherwood Anderson, Home Town (New York: Alliance, 1940).

23 Roy Stryker, letter to Marion Post Wolcott of February 13, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2).

24 Before beginning her work in the field, Post Wolcott spent several months carefully examining the FSA’s entire photographic collection. Thus, in 1939 she was thoroughly acquainted with the character and content of the collection assembled for the historical section.

25 Roy Stryker, letter to Marion Post Wolcott of May 8, 1939 (RSP/LC, microfilm, reel 2).

26 This contradiction is pointed out by Olivier Lugon in Le Style documentaire. D’August Sander à Walker Evans (Paris: Macula, 2001). See the chapter ‘Le spectateur de l’avenir,’ 334.

27 Marion Post Wolcott, notes for the lecture ‘Women in Photography,’ Syracuse, 1986, preserved in the photographer’s personal archives at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ.

28 Roy Stryker, interview with Richard Doud, October 17, 1963, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Référence électronique

Laure Poupard, « A Microcosm Untouched by Time », Études photographiques, 25 | mai 2010, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 21 mai 2014. URL : http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/3444. consulté le 22 mai 2017.

Auteur

Laure Poupard

Laure Poupard has a master’s degree in art history from the Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne, where she was a student of Guillaume Le Gall. Her research is focused on official American documentary projects from the period between the world wars. She is the author of a master’s thesis on the photographic collections of the National Youth Administration.

Droits d’auteur

© Etudes photographiques