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Of all Marion's images of Belle Glade jook joints, this is the most theatrical in feeling. The poses of the men's bodies, the expressions their faces assume, the degree of distance between the subjects and the field of the lens all work together to make the image seem intentionally atmospheric. Neat row upon row of bottles of alcohol seem almost like props. Keeping Marion's experience with the Group Theatre in mind, it is easy to see from this photograph that she had a sense for how to stage a scene. We are close enough to the men to see in detail the jauntiness of their hats, the angles of their heads, the tone of their dress. But the composition takes in just enough of their surroundings, giving us clues with which to let our imaginations fill in the rest. All the lines surrounding the men are proper, angular; in constrast, the slouchiness of their bodies feels very weighty and present.

It's hard to distinguish what 21st century associations we are reading into the dated styles and poses. Did Marion intend the figure standing, third from the left, to look as much the part of gangster as he does to us now with his hat askew just so, the long ends of his collar poking out of the crisp white sweater that is tucked around his pinstripe pants? To my eye, trying to work through the murky layers of post-historical association, this image still carries a weight and ambience even if we discount the men's clothing. In literary terms, it has color to it. In its atmospheric-ness, its theatricality, its attitude, the viewer gets a voyeuristic sense of insight into a secret, a dramatic insider's moment. That the space portrayed is private is conveyed by the averted gazes of the men, and reinforced by the fact that the figure in the center of the composition has his back turned to the viewer.

I can't help but wonder, thinking about the staged quality of this photograph, what impression these men had of what was really taking place. Although it is easier to investigate what intentions Marion Post Wolcott brought to Florida, we can't forget that these images represent a moment of collaboration (however skewed by the power divisions of race, class, outsider/insider, etc.) between photographer and subject. Calling to mind the imagined scene of the shoot, I wonder what clues Marion gave the men about what she was looking for- did they strike a particular angle, and did she call out "hold that"? How were they constructing themselves as subjects? How did they decide what they wanted to give her, living as they did, as black Floridians, with a split between their public and private identities?




Juliet Gorman, May 2001


When you've checked out all the photographs, you may want explore the history of Belle Glade, the area where they were taken. 

You also might want to fill in your reading with some background on what jook joints are about.