Marion Wolcott is known for her candid documentary photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during America’s Great Depression. She was born in Montclair, New Jersey, and educated at the New School for Social Research, New York University, and at the University of Vienna.
After graduating in 1932, she returned to New York to pursue a career in photography and attended workshops with Ralph Steiner. By 1936, she was a freelance photographer for Life, Fortune, and other magazines. She became a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin in 1937 and remained there until Paul Strand recommended her to Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration, where she worked from 1938 to 1942.
Wolcott suspended her photographic career thereafter in order to raise her family, but continued to photograph periodically as she traveled and taught, in Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and New Mexico. In 1968 she returned to freelance photography in California and concentrated on colour work.
Wolcott is known to produce iconic images for the FSA, Wolcott documented America’s staggering wealth inequalities, its race relations, the poverty and deprivation experienced during the Depression, and the benefits to the population of federal subsidies and programs. “As an FSA documentary photographer, I was committed to changing the attitudes of people by familiarising America with the plight of the underprivileged, especially in rural America,” she once said.
Along with images of coal miners, farmers harvesting tobacco fields, and affluent spectators at the races, Wolcott also captured moments of transcendence, such as in Jitterbugging (1939), an iconic image of African-Americans dancing in a club.