Looking for the Light

Paul Hendrickson admits that Marion Post Wolcott “saved his life.” Stuck in his own creative efforts, he looked for diversion in the Library of Congress files and discovered for himself a forgotten body of work by one of Depression America’s best photographic documentarians. LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT is as much about the author’s search for the font of creativity and the valve that turns it on and off as it is about the government photographer. Written in a personal style interspersed with bits of formal interviews and snatches of conversation, court records, letters, and Hendrickson’s own meditations, Post Wolcott’s biography centers on the question “Why did she quit?”

Much detail is given about Post Wolcott’s mother Nan Post. The instability of her early family life and her parents’ divorce, according to the author, had much to do with her giving up her career. Post Wolcott’s three years with FSA are covered too quickly, though Hendrickson conveys the energy, the inspiration, the weariness, and the fear that accompanied her on the backroads of America. Hendrickson describes several of her best photographs in detail—not in terms of speed and aperture, but by what each photo reveals. Several sites are visited, old memories recalled, subjects found and interviewed. A full third of the book is an examination of Post Wolcott’s retirement from artistic greatness.

Seventy-seven Post Wolcott photographs are presented. In some places they appear to illustrate the author’s story rather than the other way around, yet Hendrickson’s narrative is admiring and insightful, and Marion Post Wolcott’s life is fascinating.