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Marion Post Wolcott (American, 1910-1990)


Marion Post Wolcott (1910 - 1990) was an American photographer best known for the series of photographs she produced for the Farm Security Administration at the end of the Great Depression. Wolcott showed both sides of those affected during this time, from the affluent to those experiencing extreme poverty. Her interest in social justice and activism informed her photographs, giving her pieces a timeless quality that still resonates today.

Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Wolcott studied at the New School, where she was introduced to artists, dancers, and other members of the art community. While studying at the University of Vienna in 1932, she studied with famed-photographer, Trude Fleischmann, who encouraged Wolcott to pursue photography as a career. Marion Post Wolcott returned to the US and worked as a freelance photographer publishing in Life, Fortune, and other national publications.

In 1938, Roy Stryker hired Wolcott as a full-time photographer for the Farm Security Administration, making her the first woman to hold this position. It is this work for which Wolcott is best known. Her subjects, which ranged from the wealthy, middle class and poverty-stricken, are shown in stunning, stark beauty. These black and white photographs are some of Wolcott's best-known work, and a result of thousands of miles traveled across the United States to document the need for federal assistance.

It was during this time that Wolcott would meet her husband, Leon Oliver Wolcott, a deputy director of war relations. His work, along with raising a family, would take her away from professional photography, but she continued to document their travel experiences in her personal photographs -- Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and India were all favorite subjects. Unfortunately, much of this period of Wolcott’s work is lost to history as she had to destroy much of her personal archive during a forced evacuation from Egypt at the start of the Seven Days War in 1967.

Coming back to the US in the late sixties allowed Wolcott to document much of the counterculture in her adopted home of San Francisco, where her move to color images showcased the growing political and social unrest happening during this time.

The seventies saw a renewed academic interest in Wolcott’s work, during which she mounted several solo exhibitions. The Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art both collected her work, as Wolcott continued to teach and travel. This interest allowed Wolcott to produce collections of her photographs and exhibit at institutions throughout the country. During the last years of her life Wolcott received even more acclaim, winning the Dorthea Lange Award and the National Press Photographers Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon delivering the keynote address at the 1986 Women in Photography conference at Syracuse, she said to those in attendance, "speak with your images from your heart and your soul."

Wolcott died in Santa Barbara in 1990, leaving behind a body of work informed by her activism, her strong sense of justice, and a keen eye that knew exactly where the emotion lied in any photographic subject. This is why Wolcott’s work resonates as strongly today as it did when she produced it -- justice is timeless.

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